Sunday, June 13, 2010

Bodies of Malda babies exhumed

Malda: The bodies of two babies, who died in Malda on Thursday after receiving vaccination, were exhumed on Monday following complaints against health officials.
On Sunday, Akhtari Begum, mother of 3-month-old Najim Ansari and Mastarina Biwi, mother of 6-monthold Rehan Reza — lodged complaints with police.
Both babies had died the day after they were administered BCG and DPT vaccines. The mothers alleged that the vaccines had got spoiled and that the health officials were trying to hush up the matter by asking them to bury the bodies. The bereaved mothers also claimed compensation of Rs 5 lakh.
District magistrate Swapan Kr Rakshit, BDO Ajmal Hossain and Gajole police exhumed the bodies of the two babies. These would be sent to North Bengal Medical College on Tuesday for post-mortem.
Srikanta Roy, CMOH in Malda, said: “Routine immunisation of DPT and BCG was not the cause of death, as our records show both deaths took place after 48 hours of immunisation.” TNN published on 18.05.10

Thursday, June 3, 2010

The die is cast, punters bet big bucks on race to KMC

Debashis Konar & Subhro Maitra | TNN

Kolkata/Malda: Speculation about the outcome of the civic poll is big business for Burrabazar bookies, who are minting money ahead of Wednesday’s counting. And, with exit polls favouring Trinamool Congress in the city, most are betting in favour of the Didi brigade.
Most gamblers predict that Trinamool will bag 79-plus KMC wards. If the results prove them right, they stand to earn 40 paise on every rupee invested. Some other bookies have given Trinamool 91 KMC wards — way ahead of the exit poll figures. If they end up smarter than the psephologists, they would earn a whopping Rs 2.60 on every rupee spent.
Other bets centre around probable mayors if Trinamool wins, with some giving Javed Khan the city’s first citizenship while others gun for Sobhan Chatterjee. Should Khan replace Bikash Ranjan Bhattacharya, those who’ve bet on him will earn 40 paise for every rupee invested, while who’ve put their money for Chatterjee will win only 20 paise on every rupee spent.
The bookies are also betting on crucial seats. As a former CPM MP, Sudhangshu Sil has a better chance of winning against Trinamool’s Tapas Ray. It’s 20 paisa for every rupee spent on Sil, while Ray would get 25 paise. Even Mala Ray of Congress has a better chance than Trinamool’s Anup Chatterjee, as the bookies are giving a return of 20 paisa for Ray and 30 paisa for Chatterjee against a Re-1 investment.
Bookmakers are also guessing on the number of seats that CPM will bag. It’s clear that they are not favourites. Most give Left Front below 40 seats. If the LF wins KMC, the gain will be a spectacular Rs 4.50 against Re 1. Speculations are also on whether CPM can control any one of the two boroughs in Jadavpur, or if the party would be totally routed in Behala. The number of seats Congress and BJP are going to win is also being speculated.
Betting fever has also reached Malda. In Nawabgunj, which has a tradition of betting, some are making a fortune out of the probable results of Old Malda Municipality. It may be recalled that in Old Malda, the LF board is facing a challenge from Congress. LF won this Congress bastion in 2005 for the first time, winning 12 of the 18 seats. “Unlike traditional betting, you often get 100% returns in most cases. If you place Rs 500 in favour of CPM candidates, you’ll get Rs 1000 if he wins,” said a bookmaker. Betting is rampant in wards 9 and 14, where the margin is expected to be less than 200 votes. In ward 14, CPM councillor Swadhin Ghosh, who is contesting against Congress, conceded that betting is on.“Most gamblers are putting money in my favour,” Ghosh said.
CPM MLA Khagen Murmu said: “I have heard that betting is going on. Earlier, there was no one to place money on CPM, but the scenario has now changed.” Similar bets are on in favour of RSP candidate Tripti Pandey and her Congress rival Kartik Ghosh in Ward 9 as well.
Money is also being placed on the board as a whole. “You’ll get double your money if your party gains control of the municipality,” said a bookie. The bet amounts can go as high as Rs 50,000. Even children are involved, with stakes of Rs 10-Rs 20.
Punters said that the betting has turned hi-tech in Malda, even as computers and mobiles are being used to keep track of investors. There is even a home delivery service for the winning amounts, it was learned!....published in TOI on 2.6.10

Monday, May 24, 2010

Breaking taboos to forge a path

WOMAN Central

Subhro Maitra | TNN

She has been fighting a quiet battle for the uplift of the minority community in this part of the world. And her weapon — the mighty pen. Or rather, the printing press.
Shahnaz Begum doesn’t have a moment to spare. Even at midnight, you may find the lights on in her Gorabazar house in Behrampore. Peeping in, you’ll find a pair of busy eyes running a final check through the drafts to be sent to press the next day. It is, after all, the publication day of Pratyush, the fortnightly newspaper Shahnaz calls her second child.
But life is certainly not easy for the 39-year-old. A wife, a mother, a part-time history teacher at two colleges, editor-cum-publisher of a newspaper — Shahnaz dons many a hat. After five hours of bus journey a day, teaching at Behrampore and Nagar colleges and daily household chores, she is left with little time for the newspaper she started publishing four years ago. But she insists that she has no “option”. “It is my passion. How could I live without it?” she smiles.
The popular teacher makes sure she doesn’t miss a single college day if she can help it. “Students will be looking for me.” After all, they voted her the ‘best teacher’ in college.
So, whatever little time Shahnaz can spare for her ‘baby’ is spent giving vent to her views on reservation of seats for Muslims or the condition of minority women. And, hers is not armchair journalism. Fighting against all odds, Shahnaz’s life is an example for all downtrodden Muslim girls.
Born in a conservative family at Dakkhin Garibpara, a remote village in Domkal subdivision of Murshidabad, Shahnaz’s childhood was, to put it in her own words, “lost in darkness”. The eldest of four children, Shahnaz grew up to find girls of her family did not have the right to go to school.
“My mother wore a burqa all the time. We did not even have the right to go out of home. I studied at home up to Class III under a tutor. We would take the exams at a nearby madarsa, that too, with our faces covered.”
Given the circumstances, it could well have been the end of road for Shahnaz had she been at her father Ahmed Hossain’s house for too long. “The girls of our house studied till Class V or VI before being married off. But I was determined to pass Class X at least. With my mother’s support, I came to my maternal uncle’s house at Salimpur from where I passed Class X.”
At that tender age, Shahnaz became an example for her villagers — she was the first to pass Class X among them. And she did not grow up one-sided — she even learned music. “I passed till the second year in music, but of course, without the knowledge of my father and grandfather,” Shahnaz reminisces.
But her days of bliss were numbered. “The news of my music classes reached my grandfather Hazi Asiruddin and the world came crashing down on me. It was ‘un-Islamic’ and he asked my father to bring me home at once and marry me off.”
Those were the worst days of Shahnaz’s life. Finally, she had to forsake music to delay marriage. The gutsy girl took admission in Class XI at Domkal High School with science. In those days, even studying science was a taboo for a Muslim woman, since they had to attend practical classes with men.
Shahnaz has no qualms in admitting that her grandfather’s death in 1988 was a “blessing in disguise”. “My father’s attitude was changing, too,” she says. She went on to pass Class XII and took up honours in history at Rabindra Bharati University. Breaking all barriers, she even stayed at the Muslim Girls’ Hostel at Park Circus. “Kolkata further opened my eyes. I completed my MA there,” she says.
Today, Shahnaz is happily married to Arefin Mehboob, an advocate by profession, and has a nine-year-old son Priyanto. But she insists she has two kids — “Priyanto and Pratyush”.
She has strong views on contemporary issues. “Without education, reservation in jobs is meaningless. Worse, it fosters casteism, which is anti-Quran.” ..published in TOI on 8.3.10

WORDLY WISE: Shahnaz works on her fortnightly, ‘Pratyush’

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Guv visits storm-hit Raiganj, wants list of damaged homes



Malda: For Sujala Roy, 20, of Hemtabad’s Sonabandh village, it was a pleasant surprise, even amid the gloom. On Monday, governor M K Narayanan himself spoke to her about her plight. Sujala became a widow after her husband, Dinesh, died in last week’s tornado, leaving her to stare at a very uncertain future. With the only earning member of the household gone, the hapless Sujala — who has two sons — has no means to repair her damaged house.
On Monday, the barriers of language melted in the face of a story of raw human emotion. Sujala’s tale of tears touched Narayanan’s heart even as he directed Hemtabad BDO Ananta Sarkar to take every possible measure to alleviate her condition, as also of the thousands of others for whom home and hearth lay in ruins. A visibly excited Sujala
could not control her emotions and broke down in tears.
The governor later directed officials of the North Dinajpur district administration to complete preparing a list of houses damaged in the storm in the next three days. The list would be sent to the state government soon in order to get compensation to repair the damaged houses.
It should be noted that the governor’s earlier scheduled visit, on April 17, could not take place owing to inclement weather, which prevented his flight from landing.
On Monday morning, however, the governor’s helicopter landed at Merual, the premises of the BSF headquarters in Raiganj, from where he was driven down to Kantar and Sonabadha villages in Hemtabad. He spent a considerable amount of time meeting storm-affected people...published in TOI on 27.04.10

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Storm victims clash with cops, 30 hurt


Malda: Clashes over relief materials for tornado victims broke out at Sitamari village in Raigunj on Monday afternoon, forcing police to open fire. At least 30 people, including 12 policemen, were injured the violence.
Lakhs were rendered homeless by the killer twister that struck last Wednesday. Six days on, most don’t have food or even a sheet of tarpaulin to shelter under. The anger burst forth on Monday tornado victims blocked National Highway 34 and attacked local leaders and gheraoed ministers and panchayat employees.
Civil defence minister Srikumar Mukherjee and cottage industries minister Narayan Biswas had to be rescued by police in Mahajanbari of Hemtabad block. Police fought off angry villagers to rescue panchayat employees who were locked up in Rampur gram panchayat in Raiganj.
But removing the NH-34 blockade proved more difficult as the mob brickbatted police and wrecked two police jeeps. Raiganj IC Sujit Ghosh said: “When we appealed to the agitators to vacate NH-34 they started throwing stones at us. We had no option but to lathicharge.” The caning had no effect. Finally, police had to open fire, said Ghosh. Five of the injured were admitted to Raiganj district hospital.
The Congress-led North Dinajpur zilla parishad has decided to build houses for the dependents of those who died in the storm. More than 1 lakh houses were razed and another 94,000 partially damaged in the twister. District magistrate Ramanuj Chakraborty has dismissed allegations of inadequate relief...published in TOI on 20.4.10

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Guv chopper fails to land at Raiganj

Subhro Maitra | TNN

Raiganj: The stage was set, journalists were milling around and all the officials were on their toes. And all pairs of eyes were scanning the skies for the helicopter that was to bring governor M K Narayanan to Raiganj for a tour of the tornado-affected areas. But for the ministers, district-level officials and the general public, the wait turned out to be futile. Narayanan could not reach Raiganj and reports later came in that his helicopter had been unable to land due to bad weather.
The governor was to arrive in Raiganj at 9 am. The scheduled visit had sparked a flurry of activity, with the North Dinajpur district administration putting together a report overnight on the relief and rehabilitation work after the tornado. Four ministers —Mortaja Hossain (health), Srikumar Mukherjee (civil defence), Paresh Adhikary (food) and Anwarul Haque (MoS, health) — and a host of administrative officers, including the North Dinajpur DM, were present at the BSF helipad at Merual to receive the governor. A fleet of cars was waiting to take Narayanan to the affected areas.
As the clock touched 9.45 am and the crowd got restless, the first hum of rotors could be heard. The black speck far away soon turned into a helicopter. But after circling the area for a while, the helicopter flew away. Finally, around 10.30 am, a message came in that the governor’s trip had been cancelled. “Due to inclement weather, the Governor’s helicopter could not land,” North Dinajpur DM Ramanuj Chakraborty told the media.
News filtered in later that the governor had started from Siliguri in a helicopter with principal secretary (disaster management) B L Meena and IG North Bengal K L Tamta for Raiganj in the morning. But the pilot failed to locate the helipad and flew to Balurghat instead. From there, the helicopter took off but again failed to locate the Raiganj landing pad and flew back to Siliguri.
An IAF spokesperson said later that the dense clouds over Raiganj made it impossible to spot the BSF camp despite smoke canisters being burst. The pilot did not risk the l a n d i n g with a highprofile passenger as he had to depend solely on visual estimation to touch down.
U n a b l e to meet the g ove r n o r, the tornado victims continued with their agitation for the second day in different parts of North Dinajpur. At Beldanga in Hemtabad block, aggrieved villagers blocked the Raigunj-Balurghat state highway for hours to demand foodgrain. Later Divisional Commissioner A K Singh visited the area to pacify the mob and assure them of help.
In Altapur under Karandighi block, people blocked National Highway-34 to demand relief materials. Minister Paresh Adhikary got stranded because of this blockade. Relief Minister Mortaza Hossain faced the wrath of villagers at Khoyashpur under Karandighi. Agitating villagers also confronted officials at Tunibhita, Raypara, Bhabanipara and Sadhanpur in Karandighi....published in TOI on 18.04.10

Storm leaves N Dinajpur denuded of greenery

Prithvijit Mitra & Subhro Maitra | TNN

Raiganj: Mammoth uprooted trunks, heaps of branches and twigs and mounds of earth wrenched from their base greet you almost everywhere at Karandighi and Raiganj. As the twister raced through the villages, wreaking havoc, it left this trail of toppled trees. They fell everywhere – in backyards, along the paddy fields, on the edge of the highway and deep inside villages.
The district administration has no mechanism for taking a count or even to remove them and clear the roads, many of which remained blocked till Thursday night. The damage done to the environment by the tornado could be substantial, said officials.
While some put the number of uprooted trees at 50,000 in Karandighi alone, others said the figure could cross 2 lakh in the five affected blocks of Raiganj, Karandighi, Hemtabad, Kaliaganj, and Goalpokhor 2.
The tree-lined avenue at Karnajora in Raiganj that is flanked by the bungalows of senior district officials including the district magistrate, additional DM, and the divisional forest officer, resembled a graveyard of greenery. Huge uprooted trees lay strewn all over. Two banyan trees – one from the DFO’s bungalow and the other from the SDO’s quarters on the opposite side formed a bridge across the road. Both trees damaged the boundary walls of their respective premises, making them collapse and landing the overhead network of cable and electrical wires in a tangled mess. It has taken nearly two days for workers to clear the debris.
The most common tree species in North Dinajpur are sissoo, simul, siris, akashmoni, khair, lali, khadam, mingiri, eucalyphus, sidha, jarul, sal, sheora and arjun. Teak is also available sporadically in some patches. The forests in this district are mainly plantations. Sal is mainly of coppice origin. The total forest area is hardly 0.19 per cent of the total geographical area of the district. It has taken a further beating following the tornado. Sal , arjun and siris trees are estimated to have suffered the highest casualties. “It is difficult to arrange for the trees to be removed.
We can clear some on the borders of the highway but elsewhere villagers must help themselves,” said a forest official.
While officials are at a loss and can’t decide what to do with the trees, villagers have taken it upon themselves to remove them. At Kumargari in Raiganj, villagers have formed a committee to supervise the operation. “We don’t have machines to cut the trunks and remove them. So, we are lopping off the branches and pushing the trunks as far as we can to make room for vehicles to pass. We have no idea if the administration is going to take up the job,” said Budhmohan Das, a resident of Kumargari.
Hundreds of branches and trunks lying along the NH 34 have been taken away. While some are being sold, the rest are being whisked away to be used as fuel at home...published in TOI on 17.04.2010