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..what angry flood victims told the touring ministerial duo:
Asim Dasgupta
Buddhadeb Bhatta-
Answer: 'MINISTERS!'
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Today, especially in Bengal, there are many things going wrong. Many people believe it is because of the moribund bureaucracy - government, institutional, private ... whatever - that is responsible for the unacceptable state of affairs.

The objective of 'Stop'n Look!' is simply to throw the searchlight on the problems created by those people who are thriving in an obsolete bureacratic system - at our expense.

In this Special Report, however, we give a pat on the backs of all those people who reinforce our faith in humanity. And give thanks for a job well done.

Viva la vox populi!

Special Report: Bravo!
About special people that brings the smiles back
If the article you wish to read has been archived (due to paucity of space), please contact us/mail to:sankalpatrust@hotmail.com
(Click on the links in 'bold' to see the full contribution)
01 Howrah gets a modern hospital : article appearing in page 3 of The Statesman, dated August 3, 1998.  
Describes the new West Bank Hospital at Howrah, owned by non-resident Indians, which aims to provide 'international quality' service.
02 'Man of the Year' award for Surat ex-Commissioner: article appearing in page 3 of The Statesman, dated August 3, 1998.  
Describes the new West Bank Hospital at Howrah, owned by non-resident Indians, which aims to provide 'international quality' service.
03 Chatting with hi-tech Naidu on e-mail: article appearing on the front page of The Statesman, dated August 31, 1998.  
Describes how the Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister, Mr Chandrababu Naidu keeps close to his people with the help of the internet
04 Kalyani college sets an example; Engineering teachers defy strike call; The Statesman dated September 4, 1998; Front page  
Reports that no classes have been missed, despite the indefinite teachers ceasework; Teachers cite "responsibility to their students" as their main reason for desisting from the strike.
05 City students on flood relief mission: Copy of article appearing in The Statesman, dated October 1, 1998 : Page 5  
Reports that a team of students of St. Xavier's and Loreto colleges, which left on September 24th with medicines, food material and clothes, is camping in the flood-hit Malda district and distributing relief materials to the affected people
06 Love bites Australian at snake charmer's show: Copy of article appearing in The Statesman, dated October 10, 1998 : front page. 

Reports that an Australian realtor, Michael Cave and Indian snake dancer Papooli Devi tied the knot recently at the holy city of Pushkar. They had to wait for two years said Papooli "... so that my parents were convinced that he was not a chalu man and would keep me well". The couple got a special rebate from waiting for 7 years - the tribes custom - from the Sapera panchayat, provided Michael changed his religion. During this time, Michael learnt to live with the Sapera tribals and acquired the skills of these "snake people". Their love began nearly three years ago. Michel had come to Pushkar, the town he liked most, where he saw Papooli and her two sisters performing a snake dance. "Pahli nazar ka pyar tha; usne humko dekha, phir humne usko dekha. Bus, phir kuch kuch ho gaya."... said Michael in Hindi which he learnt by rote to please Papooli. The meeting spelt the end of the real estate business for Michael ... travelling with the three sisters and their brothers who play the musical instruments during the snake dance.
07 Hi-tech cops promise a cyberpoliced city : Copy of article appearing in The Statesman, dated October 11, 1998 : front page.  
Reports that Calcutta Police has put on the net details of parking charges and facilities, taxi harassment redressal, and many other services, including a brief history of Calcutta Police.
08 Jaipur students show the way: Copy of article appearing in The Statesman, dated October 14, 1998 : front page.   
Reports that a group of Rajasthan University students has done what politicians across the country have failed: to bring down the prices of vegetables, including onions. They have sold onions at Rs 10 a kg with no government support, against vendors' price of Rs 40 to Rs 45 a kg. The students want to prove that hoarding, rather than actual scarcity is responsible for soaring prices.
09 Free Diwali cards on the Net: Copy of article appearing in The Statesman, dated October 19, 1998 :  page 3.   
Reports that 123 India is offering free Diwali cars on the internet.
10 A Kali Puja with a difference: Copy of article appearing in The Statesman, dated October 19, 1998 :  page 3.  
Reports that a group of Sikh students at Asansol organize a Kali Puja from their own pocket money, never collects chanda, but donates money to other Puja organizers instead! During the Puja, the club organizes blood and eye donation camps. This year it has decided to donate money and blankets for North Bengal's flood victims.
11 Water RELIEF ! Copy of article appearing under 'Downtown' in The Statesman, dated Friday, October 23, 1998.  
The Calcutta Municipal Corporation is building underground reservoirs, booster pumping stations and water treatment plants to take care of the city's water crisis. But does it have the funds to deal with a project of this magnitude ... 
12 Price uprising rocks market: Copy of article appearing in The Telegraph, dated October 29, 1998 :  page 6  
Simmering popular anger over rocketing food prices have spilled out in the streets, reminiscent of the incidents in Dm Dum 25 years ago (Dum Dum daoai )
13 Excerpts from "More than just a bad moon rising": Copy of article appearing in 'Perspective'; The Statesman, dated October 3, 1998 :  page 9. 
For naval doctors and paramedics, Malda proved an eye-opener. Malnutrition stared them in the face, the women so anaemic it was a miracle they walked, children dirty, naked and pot-bellied. Health and hygiene alien concepts. NESSA BOSE reports.
14 Score high, be a CSIR scholar; Scheme to check brain drain: The Statesman, November 2, 1998, front page 
Students scoring more than 90% in Higher Secondary examinations may now work in thr nation's top notch laboratories during the holidays, as part of the CSIR Program for Youth Leadership ...
15 Taxi-driver returns gold: The Statesman, dated December 02, 1998; page 4
A briefcase containing 15 bharis of gold was returned to its owner by Mr Munna Das, a taxi-driver from the Narkeldanga police station area.
16 Watch this space for new additions!
17 Watch this space for new additions!
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01 . Howrah gets a modern hospital : article appearing in page 3 of The Statesman, dated August 3, 1998. 
Statesman News Service  

CALCUTTA, Aug 2. - West Bank Hospital at Howrah, owned by non-resident Indians, aims at providing "international quality" service, which is "transparent, compassionate, cost-effective and professional"  

The hospital, the first of its kind in the city, was inaugurated today.  

About Rs 90 Lakh (Rs 9 million) has been spent importing sophisticated equipment for the hospital. This apart, the patients will be treated by a team of doctors, trained abroad and who have worked in hospitals in foreign countries.  

Appalled by the deteriorating state of affairs in government hospitals, five medical graduates from the city, practicing in the UK, felt the need of setting up a hospital back home on the British models, which would be "hundred percent professional but honest". Thus on a Sunday afternoon in February 1993, in a remote village in North England, West Bank took shape in pen and paper.  

The remaining five years was a story of running from pillar to post to garner financial support and manpower. West Bank has a team of 23 NRI specialists, committed to providing round-the-clock service.  

Dr. Satadal Saha, managing director of West Bank, said a residential complex will soon be set up adjacent to the hospital to bring about full-time commitment of the faculty. "We will not entertain a migratory population of doctors. Whoever is ready to accept this place as his home can work with us," he said.  

West Bank plans to have 220 beds with emergency, outdoor, ICCU, OT, CT scan and research facilities. The first phase of the project, inaugurated by the WBIDC Chairman and CPI-M MP, Mr Somnath Chatterjee, includes OPD (Outdoor Patient Department) and diagnostics facilities. By October, West Bank will have 71 beds, ICCU and OT units.  

The first phase took Rs 5.25 crore (Rs 52.5 million) to build, a large chunk of which has come from a consortium of banks. The government is an equity holder of about Rs 1.75 crore, of which WBIDC holds 11% share.  

Mr. Chatterjee, speaking on the occasion, said the effort of the NRIs in setting up a cost-effective and modern hospital was laudable, especially when the country was facing a massive brain drain.  

He also had positive things to say on the choice of the location: Howrah has 4 million people but hardly any decent medical infrastructure.  

A survey carried out by West Bank revealed that every day about 52.1% people move out of Howrah in search of better medical facilities. West Bank will not only check the outflow of patients but will also help in relieving the burden on the Calcutta hospitals, Mr Chatterjee hoped.

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02. 'Man of the Year' award for Surat ex-Commissioner, The Statesman dated August 24, 1998; page 3

CALCUTTA, Aug. 23. - Taking defaulters to task is a good way to mobilize funds for a municipality, Mr S R Rao, former Municipal Commissioner of Surat, said today. 

Mr Rao is the man who transformed Surat from a city of garbage to one of the cleanest cities in the country. He was in the city today to receive the "Man of the Year Award" from the Rotary Club of Belur. 

Earlier this year, Mr Rao received the Padmashree from the President of India. 

"We didn't receive a single paisa from the Centre in the post-plague scenario. We assessed properties as fast as we could. And our priority was nailing the defaulters, most of whom were backed by politicians and bureaucrats. We saw to it that all these men did not get away from the rule of the law." 

Mr Rao told the auditorium packed with people, "Soon we had demolished enough houses to broaden the roads. In the end, the message was loud and clear - that rules were for everyone." 

Mr C R Irani, editor-in chief of The Statesman, who presented the award to Mr Rao, emphasized the need for strict measures against violators of the law. He said, "Improvement (of the city) must come from the bottom, but punishment must be from the top. Unfortunately, this does not happen because of the politician-criminal nexus." He also said that realtors building illegal houses are allowed to go scot free when much noise is made about hawkers dirtying pavements. "This is India's greatest single handicap." 

Mr Rao showed slides of how he managed to transform Surat into the "Zurich of India" in just 18 months. 
There were photographs, taken during the plague, and after Mr Rao had finished with it. 
"Our first job was to get near the people, to get them to cooperate. When they saw us working in rainy days, the dusty and hot afternoons, they resolved to keep their city clean."

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03. Chatting with hi-tech Naidu on e-mail: article appearing on the front page of The Statesman, dated August 31, 1998. 
Statesman News Service  

HYDERABAD, Aug. 30. -. Mr. N Venkata Dasu, ex-serviceman, had made several representations for a piece of land at Balive village in Krishna district. He had written to the district collector, saying he was entitled to the benefit, but to no avail. 

On Saturday, he wrote to the chief minister at his e-mail address. 

Many like him are opting for this way to seek solutions to their problems. Individual complaints and even suggestions are reaching Mr Chandrababu Naidu by e-mail, besides letters lauding his role in promoting Information Technology. 

Of the 100 odd messages Mr Naidu receives every day, at least five to ten messages are individual petitions. This could be a last ditch effort on the sender's part to seek redress for a grievance. However, officials feel that the publicity Mr Naidu got as a champion of IT could be the reason. 

The hope of hearing from the Chief Minister could also prompt people to send messages. E-mail messages to Mr Naidu that contain a query are answered within 24 hours. 

"This is probably the main reason for the increase in e-mail. Word gets around that if you e-mail the chief minister, you are assured of not only a reply. but a swift reply. One cannot say the same about letters written on paper," an official said. 

Mr Suresh Kochatil, a local resident, sent a message asking why sodium vapor lamps were not used as street lamps. After listing roads that were bad or crowded with beggars, and crowded crossroads, he wrote," I hope you will crack your whip and get the officials to do the job." 

A businessman in Vishakapatnam explained to Mr Naidu how traveling by the Swarna Jayanti Express entailed a loss of two business days and asked him to take up the matter with the Center. 

His message, and the one from Mr Dasu were forwarded to the appropriate government departments. 

A message from Peddapuram said, "Get a Disneyland branch to Hyderabad," 

From Naidu's native Tirupati, Mr K S Rao listed the various places of interest and asked why new tourist spots were not being developed. 

Mr Naidu's office is planning to open a separate cell to deal with his e-mail. Its members will be trained not to reply to messages in "bureaucratic language", since people sending e-mail messages were "of a different wavelength," sources said. For officials struggling to keep pace with the messages, the silver lining is that there's been no hate mail so far.

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04.  Kalyani college sets an example; Engineering teachers defy strike call; The Statesman dated September 4, 1998; Front page

KALYANI (Nadia), Sept. 3. - The Kalyani Government Engineering College has shown a way out of the teachers' ceasework morass where all other colleges in West Bengal have failed. 

No class on any technical subject has been missed here, despite the indefinite ceasework by teachers in other colleges since 11 August. And from this week, all non-technical teachers have followed suit and started trooping back to class, drawing praise from even the principal, Dr A S Chaudhuri. 

This is all the more surprising as some of the non-technical faculty members are affiliated to the All-India Federation of University and College Teachers Organization, which has succeeded in crippling non-medical higher educational institutions in the state for more than three weeks. 

Teachers at the college cite "responsibility to the students" as their main reason for desisting from the strike. They feel that the strike was "motivated by politics". There could have been anomalies in the Centre's order, but an indefinite ceasework only harms students." 

However, they do not blame their colleagues in other colleges for refusing to take classes. "There can be so many reasons like greater strength of Aifucto members and the presence of CPI-M dominated students unions." 

The result of the engineering college teachers' defiance of the strike call has been best felt by their students. The schedule in other colleges, including the engineering colleges of the state, has gone haywire and the routine continues to be set back "indefinitely". This college can boast to be perhaps the only higher-education institution in the state with an Aifucto presence which has the combination of a more responsible teaching faculty and a more disciplined students' union. 

As students of other engineering colleges worry about the time they have lost in their six-month semester, students here continue to be on schedule with "odd" semesters - the first, third, fifth and seventh semesters - progressing as usual and all semesters scheduled to end when they are supposed to. 

On 17 September, they will start their mid-semester examination; it has not been set back, unlike in other colleges. ...

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 05. City students on relief flood mission: Copy of article appearing in The Statesman, dated October 1, 1998 : Page 5 
CALCUTTA, Sept 30. - A team of students of St. Xaviers's and Loreto Colleges is camping in the flood-hit Malda district and distributing relief materials to the affected people.  
The team left for the flood-ravaged district on 24 September with medicines, food material and clothes.  
A second batch of 25 students will leave for Malda after 5 October. The students plan to arrange alternative accommodation for those who lost their houses. 
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07.   Hi-tech cops promise a cyberpoliced city: Copy of article appearing in The Statesman, dated October 11, 1998 : front page. 
Bappa Majumdar 
Statesman News Sevice 

CALCUTTA, Oct. 10. - For cyberbuffs in the city, there's now a useful way to spend the time than read the Starr report. The next time a cabbie refuses to take you to your destination or a familiar voice mouths obscenities at you on the phone, don't gnash your teeth. Instead head for the net, log into 'www.calcuttapolice.com' and lodge a complaint. Calcutta Police promises to respond, and net the offender for you. 

If you are wondering where to park your vehicle in the city, surf the net and the Calcutta Police website has detailed information ready for you. "Parking cars and knowing one-way streets has always been difficult, therefore we have decided to inform Calcuttans about every nook and corner of the city where they can park their vehicles, without worrying about their car being towed away," sats the additional commissioner of police (II), Mr S I S Ahmed, the brain behind the show. 

Calcutta Police has put on the net details of parking charges on every street. So, if you are harassed by parking boys demanding a steep sum, just inform the local police station or send across your complaint on the net. This service will be available in a matter of days. 

"It (accessing the information) is extremely easy as every page deals with a separate subject ... A complaint can be lodged at the local police station easily," says Mr Ahmed. And if you are refused help, as it is explained on the website, you can seek assistance from higher authorities - the divisional deputy commissioner, or police headquarters at Lalbazar. 

Very soon, details of important solved cases will also be on the net. This will give the police department a much-needed shot of positive publicity. But the department has, as of now, decided against putting information on, and photographs of wanted criminals online - "there's some legal complications." 

A separate page explains the roles of various branches of Calcutta Police. A brief history of the Police Department has been included. 

Graphics on the traffic page explain the need to keep a safe distance between cars. One is enlightened on the hazards - and consequences - of drunken driving. 

There's a page on preventing crime, if you are alone at home. Another advises housewives to register servants at the local police station and submit  a recent photograph. And in case you find your child under the influence of drugs, and want confidential drug counseling for him/her, contact the narcotics cell of the detective department on the net, and be assured of prompt action. 

"We have tried to include most aspects of reporting crime, including a whom-to-contact list for eve-teasing or hoax-call complaints. In fact, a person requesting special security at a marriage can also reach us on the net," says Mr Ahmed. 

working committee in the city today, it was decided that three teams would visit Malda, Cooch Behar and Jalpaiguri on Tuesday.

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08. Jaipur students show the way: Copy of article appearing in The Statesman, dated October 14, 1998 : front page. 
Vijay Thakur 
Statesman News Service 

JAIPUR, Oct. 13. - A group of Rajasthan University students has done what politicians across the country would love to claim credit for: brought down the prices of vegetables, including onions. 

The students, who don't belong to any political party, have sold onions at Rs 10 a kg with no government support, from at least 35 outlets here over the past five days, when vendors' were selling them at Rs 40 to Rs 45 a kg.  

The students want to prove that hoarding, rather than any actual scarcity, has sent vegetable prices soaring. They allege that the hoarders have state government's backing. 

Five days ago, they got together to form the Rajasthan Jan Parishad, under the leadership of Somendra Sharma, a former president of the Rajasthan University Students' Union. They collected Rs. 2.64 lakh, bought vegetables from wholesale dealers, and sold them from 35 outlets without profit, bringing down their prices by half, explained the parishad secretary, Mr Swarnim, who is also a senate member of Rajasthan University. Next in line are pulses and edible oil. 

The students sold spinach at Rs 3 a kg against Rs 15 a kg in the market; potatoes at Rs 8 a kg against Rs 15; tomatoes at Rs 8 a kg against Rs 20; brinjals at Rs 5 a kg against Rs 16; and cauliflowers at Rs 12 a kg against Rs 32 !!! 

"We had asked the Chief Minister, Mr Bhairon Singh Shekhawat to take action against businessmen hoarding onions and other vegetables. To our surprise, he said he couldn't do that because onions don't come under the Essential Commodities Act," Mr Somendra Sharma said. 

The students decided to act on their own, resisting attempts by businessmen to buy them off and harassment by local authorities. 

"A few businessmen tried to bribe me saying they would give me Rs 5 Lakh to contest the elections, and so on," Mr Sharma said. 

Mr Swarnim said: "Vegetables worth Rs 50 Lakhs [i.e. Rs 5 million] are sold in Jaipur every day. If we, selling vegetables at no-profit-no-loss basis can bring down their prices by half, one can make out the kind of profits the businessmen pocket." 

The student leader said that a group of about 25 businessmen manipulate vegetable prices in Jaipur. 

The State Government has apparently not taken kindly to the students' move. Local authorities threatened them with "dire consequences" and later tried to close their vegetable stalls, parishad office-bearers alleged. 

"Their nefarious designs failed because the public was with us, and the people were convinced that the students had no vested interests," Mr Swarnim said. 

Next the students plan to target vegetable oil and pulses prices, which too have allegedly been pushed up by hoarders. 

The Parishad general secretary, Mr Inderjit Singh, has got in touch with local oil mills, from which they plan to buy the oil. The oil will be packed in "beer bottles" and sold with Rajasthan Jan Parishad labels. 

Pulses will be bought from Kishangarh Pulse Mandi and sold in 500 gm and 1 kg packets. 

"We will reduce the prices by half. Mustard oil is selling at Rs 80 a litre, and we are planning to sell it for Rs 45 a litre," the parishad office-bearers said.


This has to be the most significant development in recent times - students coming down from their high perches and getting their hands dirty; rubbing shoulders with the hoi polloi ... what about students from the rest of the country?

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09. Free Diwali cards on the Net: Copy of article appearing in The Statesman, dated October 19, 1998 :  page 3. 
 CALCUTTA, Oct. 18.  -  Free Diwali Cards! That's what 123 India - the country's premier Internet media site that offers branded Web content to Indians throughout the world - is offering. 
123 India, an improved search engine (www.123india.com), offers free electronic greeting cards. Users can choose from a selection of Diwali greetings cards on the site and e-mail them to their dear ones with their personal messages. 

"123 India is the largest guide in terms of users, database and reach amongst the Indian community on the Internet. We provide free services on the net to Indians worldwide and the festival of lights was just the right occasion to bring Indians on the net closer," said Mr. Nalin Sharma, a senior official of 123 India.

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10. A Kali Puja with a difference: Copy of article appearing in The Statesman, dated October 19, 1998 :  page 3.  

ASANSOL, Oct. 18. - This town boasts the only Kali Puja in the state organized solely by Sikhs. 

Tomorrow, the 17-members of Balak Sangha - all Sikh youths between 18 and 28 - will fast through the day and offer anjali to the goddess, wearing new clothes. 

The club, at Arya Sarani, was founded by three young Sikhs in 1991 with the sole purpose of organizing the Kali Puja. Raju Saluja, Kindi Saini and Lucky Arora scratched together Rs 5,000 from their pocket money and held a modest ceremony. Since then, the club's membership has grown, and it has always managed with the donations from the members. 

It has never collected chanda, but donated money to other Puja organizers, said a member, Mr Rakesh Sharma. In 1992, the club's membership grew to 11 and its Puja funds rose to Rs 30,000. The following year six more Sikh youths joined the club, raising the budget by another Rs 10,000. 

All 17 members are sons of businessmen who had left Punjab a long time ago and settled down here. 

Mr Saluja, one of the founders of the club, explained how the idea to hold a Puja came to them. "Since we were children, we used to visit the Hutton Road Kali temple every Saturday. Gradually we developed a love for the Hindu goddess." 

Mr Kuldip Sing, father of Mr Saluja, said the young mens' parents too participate in the Puja to encourage their sons. They light up their homes with candles and lamps for Diwali. 

During the Puja, the club organizes blood and eye donation camps. This year it has decided to donate money and blankets for North Bengal's flood victims. 

The Asansol Mayor, Mr Bamapada Mukherjee, says the Balak Sangha Puja has set an example in communal harmony.

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 11.  Water RELIEF ! Copy of article appearing under 'Downtown' in The Statesman, dated Friday, October 23, 1998.
 If everything goes well, the city's drinking water problems will be solved by the turn of the century. The Calcutta Municipal Corporation is making every effort to ensure that it happens. Underground reservoirs, booster pumping stations and two new water treament plants will be installed under the scheme at a cost of Rs 180 crore. By the year 2000, the city is likely to get 330 million gallons of filtered water per day, up from the 250 million gallons it is getting now. 

[Take a look at this table]: 
Booster Station 
Estimated Cost
Proposed date of commission
Behala Chowrasta
6 mgd
Rs 12 Crore 
December 1998
Park Circus
4 mgd
Rs 12 Crore
May 1999
5 mgd
Rs 14 Crore
December 1999
3 mgd
Rs 10 Crore
March 2000
Gurdwara Park
3 mgd
Rs 10 Crore
May 2000
Mohammd Ali Park
4 mgd
Rs 12 Crore
Already commissioned
... For the first time, says Dibyendu Roychowdhury, Chief Engineer, Water Suply Department, CMC - civic authorities are trying to improve the distribution network. The century old underground pipeline, which carries filtered water from Tallah pumping station to the city, has developed leaks in many places, resulting in a sharp reduction in water pressure in many pockets. Earlier, the pipeline couldn't be repaired due to funds crunch. 

Areas suffering from a water crisis will be fed by the booster stations. The CMC had engaged a German firm to prepare a map of the underground pipeline network. Recently, the firm submitted its report and urged civic authorities to discard the deep tube-wells and hand tube-wells since they were found to reduce the the level of surface watering the city. 

Two huge water treatment plants at Palta and Garden Reach are under construction at a cost od Rs 110 crore. The new treatment plant at Palta with a reservoir which can store 40 million gallons of water per day will be commissioned by March 2000 at an estimated cost of Rs 50 crore. The other treatment plant at Garden Reach  - which can store 60 million gallons of water per day - will be commissioned by December 1999 at an estimated cost of Rs 60 crore.  

It would be interesting to find out how the civic authorities propose to raise funds  ... Civic officials feel that the only  option is to impose water tax on domestic users. Earlier, the proposal to impose 10 % of the annual valuation as water tax was rejected by a section of leaders belonging to the Calcutta District Committee of the CPI(M). The CDC leaders reportedly told senior civic officials "not to impose tax on domestic users arbitrarily". A request was made to the civic officials to redraft the proposals and make them house-owner friendly. Civic authorities contend that their proposal was not at all arbitrary. They will take up the matter with the state government ... 

According to the Municipal Commissioner, Asim Burman, steps have already been taken to ensure that filtered water is not wasted. At present, almost 20 million gallons of drinking water are wasted daily through the roadside standposts. The police has been instructed to arrest those who break the standposts to get access to water. In October, some arrests were made in this connection. But that is only a small step.

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 12.  Price uprising rocks market: Copy of article appearing in The Telegraph, dated October 29, 1998 :  page 6 
By a staff Reporter 

Calcutta, Oct. 28: Simmering popular anger over rocketing food prices spilled out on the streets today when residents stormed into markets and forced shopkeepers to sell at affordable rates. 

At Jadavpur and Garia, local people backed by CPM workers went from shop to shop fixing the price of mustard oil at Rs 50 per kg and onions at Rs 20 per kg. The two items are being sold for Rs 75 and Rs 50. 

Such popular resistance to rising prices has not been seen in about 25 years since Dum Dum residents erupted in protest in the early seventies. That incident is still recalled as Dum Dum daoai (treatment). 

The city police too swung into action, raiding several wholesale markets. The deputy commissioner of enforcement branch, B B Das said the police raided 20 establishments in the Posta area and several markets at Shyambazar and Bagbazar. "Onions are selling at Rs 18 per kg in the wholesale market but a section of the traders is hoarding it locally," said Das. 

City police chief Dinesh Vajpai said: "We will seize the stocks from hoarders of onion, potato and other essential vegetables and arrest them." 

The member, mayor-in-council in charge of conservancy, Kanti Ganguly, along with secretaries of local and zonal committees of CPM marched into at least five markets at Jadavpur and Garia and asked traders to sell mustard at Rs 50 per kg and onions at Rs 20 a kg. Ganguly is also the local councilor.  

At oil mills, the CPM leaders and residents even wrote the "new" rates on the stock board. Pleas of mill-owners that they would suffer heavy losses went unheeded. 

The president of the south Calcutta district committee of the federation of Traders Organizations, West Bengal, Ganesh Chandra Paul, was shaken by the protests. "We were ordered to sell mustard oil at Rs 50 per kg. We sold the oil at the "new" rate for some time and then closed our mills and shops," he said. 

Ashoke Sadhukhan of Bengal Oil Millers Association said its members would not be able to sell mustard oil ar Rs 50. "If this goes on, we will have to close down the 500-odd mills in the state," he feared. 

Ganguly faced criticism for taking the law into his own hands, but the incident evoked popular support. 

Sabita Ganguly, resident of Garfa, said: "It is good that the residents reacted strongly. Prices of essentials are soaring in such a manner that it is going beyond our control. People should carry out similar actions at Burrabazar from where the hoarders operate." 

Brinda Kapat of Jadavpur said: "Today's protest at the markets should have come much earlier. Traders increase prices of essential commodities at the slightest excuse." 

In north Calcutta's Amherst Street, Apurba Das said: "Such actions by the people should have been taken all over the state. In fact, the action should have come from the government." Echoing Das, Anjali Haldar, housewife from Barasat said: "Such action against price rise should be initiated by the administration." 

However, Rana Roy of Gria expressed fears of a scarcity if mill-owners went ahead with their threat to shut down units. "The government should ensure steady supply of mustard oil," he said. 


Comment # 1 from S Mukherjee (received on October 29, 1998): 

Whether this piece of news should receive a bouquets or a brickbats is debatable. Taking the law anyplace other than courts of law is deplorable. And yet, when there is no law, the people make their own laws, and sometimes the daoai becomes uncontrollable. 
But if there is no real shortage, why are the government servants charged with ensuring the supply of food to the people of this state, running to Spain and Iran to procure onions? This is smelly business. While people in other civilized countries are dreaming of putting men and women into space and facing the challenges of the 21st century, our people are still struggling with medieval problems of putting bread and onions on the table. Instead of venting our wrath on the poor onion seller - who is merely at the bottom of the "food chain" - the people should visit Jyoti Basu and Kalimuddin Shyams - who are at the "top" and seem to be representing the interests of the hoarders more than the people who elected them to office.

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 13. Excerpts from "More than just a bad moon rising": Copy of article appearing in 'Perspective'; The Statesman, dated October 3, 1998 :  page 9.
 Surgeon-Lieutenant Thergaonkar is medical officer of INS Sandhayak, a naval ship in Vishakapatnam. Surgeon-Lieutenant Verma is a medical officer on a naval submarine ... On that rolling, rickety boat to Panchanandapur, Thergaonkar, Verma and their 8 sailors saw inundated land, the likes of which they have never seen before. They had been sent to give medical cover in Malda. It was going to be work on a war footing. 

Their walk to Ganga Bhavan was a walk through human excreta. Dirty, naked pot-bellied children stared at the men as they made their way to the state guesthouse, which looked more like a crumbling mansion where spiders held cobwebbed fort. That night the doctors saw their first patient - a young girl who lay perfectly still on a rickshaw-van. She was dehydrated from gastroentritis. 

The next morning, they were besieged. The registration counter of their medical camp in Ganga Bhavan was almost mobbed. Within an hour more than 20 patients lay on the floor with intravenous saline drip. Their eyes sunken, their tongues dry, they were too numb to feel the pain of the needle. The crowds began to swell. Women, men and children complained of skin infection, stomach disorders, fever and of course gastroentritis. 

"The women were so anaemic it was a miracle they could walk. The potbellied children smelled like animals and their light brown hair was matted. Chunks of dirt and phlegm covered their faces," recalls Thergaonkar. "Malnutrition stared us in the face. Many complained of periodic high fever; was it malaria? We couldn't confirm, so we prescribed anti-malarial drugs," says Verma. 

But even as they wrote their prescriptions, they saw people defecating on open ground near the water. It was also their drinking water. A land of impenetrable ignorance, no questions asked. 

"How could we expect anyone to ask us questions of health and hygiene? They hadn't known either in all their lives. A people so weary from the labours of hand-to-mouth existence, they spend their entire lifetime on the first rung of Maslow's ladder of needs," says Thergaonkar feelingly. 

Dwindling food supply and rations ("allegedly the panchayat had floated extravagant bills in our name to pocket some funds"), lack of transport, an alleged threat from local quacks and hoodlums who were losing out their patients to the naval doctors and an inert state administration that couldn't come to grips with the situation didn't make things easy." But perhaps we prevented an epidemic of gastroenteritis and there was nothing more we could do after that," says Verma. The naval medical team was derequisitioned by the district magistrate on 24 September. 

Way back in 1984-85, paramedic AS Chauhan had been part of a team on a naval that dropped food packets to people marooned by floods in Nellore. At Mahanandatolla, he watched VIP helicopters criss-cross the skies. For the team of 41 paramedics, most of them from villages in other states, Malda was a leson in hell country. DVS Suhag says he saw people vomiting foot-long worms for the first time in his life. "The only thing that these people know is saline. They came to us and said give us saline. Through the years, the only medicine they's been given was saline. A doctor they'd known gave them the same at Rs 100 per bottle, no matter what the ailment. He's a damn clever crrok. Saline is a no-risk thing!" 

For Chauhan, back home in Rajasthan droughts spell disaster. "But nothing of this magnitude. We never run out of basic amenities, but here, I couldn't believe my eyes. No roads, no transport ... in places we even laid bricks to find our way. A woman who came to me for medicines had one child on her arm, one child by her side and she was pregnant. She was emaciated. When  I tried telling a few about birth control they wouldn't listen. 'Not all our children will live. The few that survive will help us in the fields," they said. What do you tell people who don't know that they should build their houses above road level?" he asks incredulously.  

Mahanandatolla - it's in the back of beyond. You get to Bhaluka by train, then take a boat from Debipur Ghar. Two hours later you reach Mahanandatolla. Well, if it's so difficult to get there, you simply don't get there. No wonder the doctors saw a few polio victims amomng the poplace. And people here are inured to floods every year. They swear by the fertile soil when the waters recede and watch paddy ripen and think they've got the best deal. "Malnutrition is so glaring because most of the people survive on panta (fermented rice) There's hardly any protein in their diet, maybe just a hint of Urad dal that they grow. But how can you blame them; nobody's ever told them anything about nutrition. Or sanitation," says Surg-Lt Roy. He served at the Mahanandatolla medical camp. 

Over time, thr doctors managed to stem the outbreak of an epidemic in gastroentritis. The medical camps soon started functioning in mini-OPDs. "It was then that we began to realize how helples we were. These villagers walked barefeet, had worms, allergies, skin infections. There was this guy who had an open wound from a snakebite. He went into the water, roamed everywhere without even dressing it. One had to start from scratch, we tried as best we could, given our constraints," says Roy. 

For the team of seven naval doctors and 41 paramedics, two weeks in Malda have been a battle against natural and human odds. The naval team carried 800 kg of medicines but thereafter replenishing the supply was difficult. "The health service apparatus is a separate entity, a law unto itself," says Surg-Lt Commander Bose, principal Medical Officer. INS Netaji Subhas, "in spite of the DM's orders, medicines were difficult to come by. There weren't enough stores." 

But that was only the bureaucratic iceberg. The doctors realized that the state administration was as shell shocked as the flood victims. The system, according to the doctors, is perfect on paper, with primary health centers, ICDS, anganwadi workers, but throughout our tenure no government doctor was available.Indeed, even the administratuion is helpless and doesn't really have control at the grassroot level. The entire system is politicized, polarized and riven by unions. It's sad because individually, the IAS or WBCS officer wants to effect change. But the Nehruvian dream dies a death at the BDO's office." 

But to be fair, getting cynical, disillusoned was only part of the experience. The navy had after all volunteered to work in Malda with the Flag Officer Commanding-in-Chief, Eastern Naval Command, Vice-Admiral Pasricha offering to help. "When we asked the state government how we could help them, they asked for doctors and medical relief." says Commodore K S K Prasad, Naval Officer in Charge, West Bengal. "We flew doctors and paramedics from Vizag, Cochin, and Mumbai."But I wish they'd asked us earlier for divers, boats and the works. Tha way e could have done more." 

Waking up to the reality of lack of education, awareness, health, hygiene, and a failed health system was an eye-opener, "a comedown from the ivory tower of the naval life fairy tales". For the fist time ever, the doctors were made aware of a peculiar rural calling card: drumbeats announcing their arrival to other villages in the vicinity. "It was the experience of a lifetime," says Surg-Lt Sridhar, medical officer-in-charge, Kalyani Hospital, Vishakapatnam. "We rarely see poor health in this degree and scale in cosmopolitan towns. Things aren't going to change in those villages but at least they've heard a thing or two about sanitation." So while one doctor may feel he's pumped "antibiotics into a black hole abd come back", that it's been a "medico's Vietnam", in time they might yet learn to measure their work a day at times. 

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 14. Score high, be a CSIR scholar; Scheme to check brain drain: The Statesman, November 2, 1998, front page

CALCUTTA, Nov. 1. - Score 90% in science subjects in your Higher Secondary examinations and you may find yourself working in the nation's top-notch laboratories during the holidays. You will be designated a Council for Scientific and Industrial Research student associate and allowed to work in CSIR laboratories for upto 14 weeks in a year. The CSIR will pay your travel expense and arrange for accomodation. It will also help fund your studies till you graduate in a science subject of your choice. 

This is part of the CSIR Program for Youth Leadership in Science. The CPYLS is part of larger scheme called Kishore Vigyanik Protsahan Yojana. The department of science has launched the scheme to stem the brain drain. The scheme will provide support to science students in school. This is the first time such a country-wide scheme has been undertaken. 

The CSIR's CPYLS will allow talented students to work in its 40 laboratories all over the country. The top 50 students at the secondary school examinations at the state level, both of the local board and the CBSE, will be invited to visit the nearest CSIR laboratory for two days. The student will be allowed to bring a parent along. The CSIR will pay the expenses. The top five students will be invited to to visit two additional CSIR labs. During their two-day stay at the CSIR lab, the students will be attending lectures by senior scientists of the science and technology department. They will be shown documentaries on the contribution of Indian scientists in science, medicine and industry. 

The scheme will stop the brain drain and will encourage students to join research organizations, said a senior officer of the department of science and technology. More money will be provided for the scheme in the ninth five-year plan. DST has asked the heads of the laboratories to cooperate in implementing the scheme. The CSIR brings out science magazines for students - in English, Hindi and Urdu, and gives grants to science journals published in Indian languages.

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 15.  Taxi-driver returns gold: The Statesman, dated December 02, 1998; page 4
Statesman News Service

CALCUTTA, Dec. 1. - Imagine coming across a briefcase containing 15 bharis of gold. And imagine a person honest enough to return it to its owner. Thatís what Mr Munna Das, a taxi-driver from the Narkeldanga police station area, did.

He deposited the briefcase with the police last evening. The briefcase contained gold and woolen garments.

Mr Das said he had taken a passenger from Naktala to Kayasthapara in the Kasba police station area. 

The briefcase could be his, he said.

Officers of Narkeldanga police station contacted Kasba police station and were told that Mr Subir Ghosh of Kayasthapara had reported losing a briefcase.

Mr Subir Ghosh and his wife were returned their belongings. Police said the taxi-driver would be rewarded for his honesty. 


Comment # 1 from S Mukherjee (received on October 29, 1998): 
Mr Munna Das should be made the Chief Minister ... nay! ... the Prime Minister of India ... in the hope that that might one day return the riches of the people of India and Bengal to their rightful owners.

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