No civic poll in Bengal in January


By bappaditya paul 

It’s official now! There will be no civic poll in the state in January ~ a deadline that both the state government and the State Election Commission (SEC) had agreed to in the Calcutta High Court in September.

Election vehiclesThe state government has communicated to the SEC in writing that it now wants the long-pending elections to 10 civic bodies to be held in April, along with another 81 civic bodies including the Kolkata Municipal Corporation, whose terms are scheduled to end in June. The*** Statesman*** had on 2 December reported about such a possibility after talking to sources in the poll panel and the state government.

“We have received a letter from the state municipal affairs secretary Mr B P Gopalika dated 4 December, which stats that the government wants to further postpone the elections to the 10 civic bodies and instead hold the polls by the end of April along with 81 more,” State Election Commissioner Mr S R Upadhyay today said. “The letter says that this is to avert repeated disruptions to development activities because of the model code of conduct that comes to force with any election.”

The state government, however, is silent about the polls to Siliguri Municipal Corporation and the Siliguri Mahakuma Parishad, whose terns ended in October and mid 2014, respectively.Calcutta High CourtMr Upadhyay said that the poll panel has sought legal advise from its counsel and would shortly respond to the state government. “But as far as the Calcutta High Court is concerned, our counsel has told us that we need not inform the court about the postponement; it is up to the government to decide what it wants to do. As regards the Commission, we are fully prepared to conduct the polls by the 31 January deadline.”

The ten civic bodies, elections to which were to be held by 31 January are ~ Gangarampur (South Dinajpur), Kaliagunj (Malda), Uluberia (Howrah), Egra (East Midnapore), Islampur (North Dinajpur), Mal (Jalpaiguri), Dankuni (Hooghly), Sainthia (Birbhum), Rajpur-Sonarpur (South 24-Parganas) and Haringhata (Nadia).ELECTION_JADAVPUR LS CONSTITUENCY 12They are among the 17 civic bodies in the state whose terms ended in July 2013 but the Mamata Banerjee government declined to hold the election in time citing summer and monsoon woes. Peeved at the government’s delaying tactics, the then State Election Commissioner Ms Mira Pande moved the High Court in June, seeking intervention. She exhausted her term mid-way into the hearing of the case.

The new poll commissioner, Mr Upadhaya, who assumed office on 21 July, took a conciliatory approach and suggested holding elections to ten of the 17 civic bodies by 31 January and the state agreed to the proposal in the High Court. The seven municipalities that were left out were the ones that the government plans to merge / upgrade into municipal corporations. They are ~ Asansol, Dum Dum, South Dum Dum, Madhyamgram, Maheshtala and Rajarhat-Gopalpur.

(The author is on the staff of The Statesman, India. This report was first published in The Statesman on 16 December 2014.)

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Bengal likely to club and further push back all pending civic polls


By bappaditya paul
IN A FRESH DELAYING TACTIC, the West Bengal government is likely to push for clubbing all pending civic elections in the state with those of another 81 civic bodies whose term is scheduled to end in June 2015.  Mamata Banerjee This is in deviation of the 31 January deadline that both the state government and the State Election Commission had agreed upon before Calcutta High Court in September for holding elections to 10 civic bodies whose term had expired in July this year.

According to State Election Commissioner Mr Sushanta Ranjan Upadhaya, the government has not till date responded to the repeated reminders sent by the poll panel for fixing a poll date. The government must notify the election date latest by 15 December if the poll is to be conducted by 31 January. The poll panel plans to send another reminder to the state government later this week.

West Bengal State Election Commission office

West Bengal State Election Commission office

Sources both in the poll panel and the state municipal affairs department said that the government, instead, was planning to further push back the matter to April-May when elections to another 81 civic bodies, including the Kolkata Municipal Corporation, are due.

“The excuse is that the model code of conduct that comes into force during an election, imposes restrictions on development works in the constituency concerned. Hence, what we are hearing is that, the government is planning to club all pending civic poll to April-May so that there is no repeated disruptions to development work,” said a highly placed source in the state poll panel.

SEC’s counsel, Mr L C Behani, however, has advised the poll panel against moving the High Court for any extension of the 31 January deadline. “We are prepared to conduct the poll by the agreed date. In case of any deviation, it is the state government which shall move the HC, our counsel has advised,” said a senior SEC official.

Sushanta Ranjan Upadhyay

Sushanta Ranjan Upadhyay

Asked about the pending poll date, municipal affairs secretary Mr B P Gopalika said that a decision on this was pending with the municipal affairs minister.

“We have put up the file before the minister and will respond to the election commission as soon as a decision is arrived at,” he said. When asked if the poll will be held by 31 January, Mr Gopalika said: “I will not speculate anything.”

The ten civic bodies, elections to which are to be held by 31 January are ~ Gangarampur (South Dinajpur), Kaliagunj (Malda), Uluberia (Howrah), Egra (East Midnapore), Islampur (North Dinajpur), Mal (Jalpaiguri), Dankuni (Hooghly), Sainthia (Birbhum), Rajpur-Sonarpur (South 24-Parganas) and Haringhata (Nadia).

Ms Mira Pande

Ms Mira Pande

They are among 17 civic bodies in the state whose terms ended in July this year but the Mamata Banerjee government declined to hold the election in time citing summer and monsoon woes. Peeved at the government’s delaying tactics, then State Election Commissioner Ms Mira Pande moved the High Court in June, seeking intervention.

The new poll commissioner Mr Upadhaya took a conciliatory approach and suggested holding elections to ten of the 17 civic bodies, leaving out the ones that the government plans to merge / upgrade into corporations.

(The author is on the staff of The Statesman, India. This report was first published in The Statesman on 01 December 2014.)

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Bengal tourism industry eyes footfall boost


By bappaditya paul

The tourism industry of West Bengal is eying a big boost from Centre’s move to grant visa-on-arrival to tourists from 43 countries. They believe that the Darjeeling-Dooars region, which already receives a good number of foreign tourists, will particularly benefit from this.

West Bengal Tourism logo

In 2010, West Bengal had received 11.92 lakh foreign tourists, which was 8.33 per cent of all foreign tourists who had visited India that year.

“We have been waiting for this for long. The move will surely increase the inflow of foreign tourists in Bengal; we expect the number to become double if not more,” said Mr Kaushik Kar, vice-president of the Travel Agents Association of Bengal (TAAB). “Darjeeling-Dooars region will be the main beneficiary and so will be Santiniketan. But destinations such as Sundarbans will have to wait to en-cash this as we do not have enough modern accommodation facilities there as yet.”

The Bengal tourism industry, however, says that it will not be able fully reap the benefit of the visa-on-arrival move in the forthcoming winter tourist season that commences in mid-December. “Majority of the foreign tourists plan their visit at least two months in advance. Hence it is unlikely that the visa-on-arrival facility that has been announced today will encourage a large number of foreigners to flock into Bengal this winter itself,” said Mr Partha Guha, general secretary of the Eastern Himalayas Travel and Tour Operators’ Association (EHTTOA).

West Bengal Tourism Dooars

“But we are eyeing a big boost in the number of foreign tourist arrivals in Darjeeling-Dooars during the next summer tourist season,” said Mr Guha. “The summer season lasts from April to June.”

The visa-on-arrival facility is available for passports holders of 43 countries for short-duration stay for recreation, casual visit to meet friends/relatives or for medical purpose. The countries are ~ Australia, Germany, USA, Brazil, Thailand, Japan, UAE, Cambodia, Cook Islands, Djibouti, Fiji, Finland, Indonesia, Israel, Jordan, Kenya, Kiribati, Laos, Luxembourg, Marshall Islands, Mauritius, Mexico, Micronesia, Myanmar, Nauru, New Zealand, Niue Island, Norway, Oman, Palau, Palestine, Papua New Guinea, Philippines, Republic of Korea, Russia, Samoa, Singapore, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu, Ukraine, Vanuatu, Vietnam.

West Bengal Pavilion at World Tourism Market, London, 4-7 Nov 2013

West Bengal Pavilion at World Tourism Market, London, 4-7 Nov 2013

A visitor from any of these countries will have to apply for an e-visa on the designated Government of India website and pay visa fee online to get an electronic travel authorisation (ETA) within 72 hours of applying. An E-visa will be valid for 30 days and a tourist can avail the facility twice a year at nine international airports namely ~ Kolkata, Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai, Hyderabad, Bengaluru, Kochi, Thiruvananthapuram and Goa.

EHTTOA general secretary, Mr Guha said that it would have been better if the Bagdogra Airport near Siliguri were included in the list of airports that could process the visa-on-arrival. “A good number of tourists from the Schengen countries begin their tour with Bhutan and then fly down to Bagdogra. Such tourists will be compelled to fly to Kolkata from Bhutan if they want to avail the visa-on-arrival facility,” he said.

(The author is on the staff of The Statesman, India. This report first appeared in The Statesman on 28 November 2014.)

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Weekend ordeals to continue


By bappaditya paul
NOTWITHSTANDING THE RUSH of passengers on weekends, Metro Railway is hesitant to increase the number of trains. Metro trains are badly crowded on weekends, which turn the ride into an ordeal for commuters.A Kolkata Metro trainUntil June, the logic was that before increasing the number of trains Metro wanted to weigh the impact of an imminent bus fare hike on its passengers. Now that the bus fare in Kolkata has gone up since 1 September, Metro authorities say that they need to work out whether increasing the number of trains on weekends will be feasible given the shortage of train drivers and rakes.

According to the latest figures, Metro Railway is now carrying an average of 4.83-lakh passengers on Saturdays while running 206 trains. On Sundays, it transports around 2.53 lakh passengers with the number of trains being 94. As against this, the number of people travelling by Metro on weekdays is around 5.72 lakh when the number of trains operated is 274 daily. Kolkata Metro AC rakeGoing by this, the average number of commuters per Metro train on Saturday is 2,345; on Sunday it is 2,691, and on weekdays it stands at 2,088.  A Kolkata Metro train that runs with eight coaches is designed to carry a maximum 2,558 passengers. This makes it clear that an increase in number of Metro trains on weekends is only reasonable, but the authorities are still hesitant.

Metro Railway general manager Mr Radhey Shyam said that several factors needed to be taken into consideration before introducing more trains on weekends. “We need to work out whether it will be feasible to run more trains with the present manpower and infrastructure. Besides, we also need to keep in mind that the overall number of passengers has dropped in the past year,” he said.Kolkata Metro AC trainThe fact, however, is that the fall in Metro passengers ~ by about a lakh ~ was the result of a steep hike in Metro fare implemented in November 2013. But this has proved a boon for Metro trains that were failing to meet the burden of nearly 6.5 lakh passengers on a weekday, as there is a shortage of rakes. In fact, Metro’s passenger revenue has gone up.

Mr Shyam ruled out the possibility of extending the run of all Metro trains up to Noapara for want of sufficient passengers. At present, only 50 trains ply up to and from Noapara on weekday, 42 trains on Saturday and 48 trains on Sunday.

(The author is on the staff of The Statesman, India. This report was first published in The Statesman on 21 November 2014.)

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Railways cheats passenger!


By bappaditya Paul
TRAVEL AGENTS DUPING PEOPLE with fake train tickets is nothing new but Indian Railways’ own booking counter cheating a passenger surely is.      The South Eastern Railway (SER) reservation counter at Old Koilaghat Building in Kolkata has allegedly cheated a passenger by cancelling his journey when the man still has the original ticket in possession.Indian Railways logoThis led to the passenger paying twice for the same journey from New Delhi to Kolkata. He also failed to attend an important event in Howrah that he was invited to.   On receiving a complaint from the passenger, SER’s chief commercial manager (CCM) has now ordered a probe into the matter asking for report within seven days.

According to Mr Fazlur Rahman, a resident of Belurmath in Howrah, he had booked two tickets from counter No. 12 at Old Koilaghat Building around 9 a.m. on 26 October.

Of them, one was for travel from Sealdah to New Delhi by Duronto Express on 6 November (PNR: 633-4903305); the second one was a return ticket from New Delhi to Howrah by Rajdhani Express on 10 November (PNR: 236-4061297).

“The return ticket status was RAC. But when I went to New Delhi railway station to board Rajdhani Express on 10 November, I could not find my name in the passenger chart. I went to the chief station manager (CSM) office and after enquiry they told me that my ticket was cancelled from the same reservation office on the day of booking itself,” said Mr Rahman, a teacher by profession. New Delhi Railway stationBoth the CSM office staff and Mr Rahman were left puzzled at the discovery because he still had the original train ticket with him. The Rajdhani Express in the meantime departed from New Delhi station and

Mr Rahman was left stranded. “I lodged a complaint with the CSM office and requested them to facilitate me a ticket in some other train departing the same night. They were very considerate and issued me a confirmed ticket on Sealdah Duronto Express. For this, I had to pay Rs 2,035, which is the fare for a 3AC ticket,” he said.

After returning to Kolkata, Mr Rahman tried to unravel the mystery but was unsuccessful. The 43-year-old teacher says that while booking his ticket on 26 October at Old Koilaghat, the reservation clerk had entered his name wrong which he spotted on the counter’s display board and had got the name corrected by approaching the chief reservation supervisor (CRS) although the clerk was averse to the idea.Old Koilaghat Building“I don’t know whether the official cancelled my ticket in anger over this.”
Those working at railway reservation counters say that to cancel a ticket a clerk is required to get a cancellation slip filled-in by the passenger and also the original ticket. The clerk retains these and the passenger is issued a cancellation ticket mentioning the refund amount etc.

“On rare occasions, when a clerk misplaces or forgets to retain an original ticket, the CRS of that reservation office is required to mention this in the daily closing statement that is sent to the headquarters. But it cannot happen that both the cancellation slip and the original ticket will go missing at the same time,” said a reservation officer.

The CCM of South Eastern Railway, Mr Suchitto Kumar Das, today ordered a probe into the matter after Mr Rahman lodged a complaint with him on 14 November. “I have asked the CCM (Passenger Services) to probe this within seven days. The truth will surely come out,” Mr Das said over the telephone.

(The author is on the staff of The Statesman, India. This report was first published in The Statesman on 19 November 2014.)

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Maitree Express soon to run thrice a week


By bappaditya paul

The railway authorities of India and Bangladesh have decided to increase the frequency of Maitree Express that plies between Kolkata and Dhaka, by one more day a week. A formal announcement on this is soon expected from the Railway Board in New Delhi. Maitree Express in BangladeshMaitree Express, introduced on 14 April 2008, now runs twice a week from both directions. From Kolkata it runs on Tuesday and Saturday; from Dhaka it plies on Wednesday and Friday. The plan is to run it one more day a week ~ on Sunday from Kolkata and on Monday from Dhaka.

To discuss necessary preparations for the increase in frequency, the railway officials of Bangladesh and India today held a meeting at Sealdah in Kolkata. The Bangladesh Railway delegation was led by its divisional railway manager (DRM) for Paksey, Mr Musharaff Hussain; Indian side was headed by the Sealdah DRM, Ms Jaya Varma Sinha. The meeting was held in Sealdah DRM office. Maitree Express route“It was a co-ordination meeting at the DRM level and we discussed all issues including the frequency increase of Maitree Express. It has been decided in-principle to run the train on one more day but a date for this will be formally announced by the Railway Board in New Delhi,” Ms Sinha said.

She said that while on the operational side the railways of both the countries were in a position to augment the frequency right way, it might take some more time to happen, as it was an inter-ministerial matter involving Immigration, Customs and the Union Home Ministry.

Meanwhile, while the frequency increase waits to happen, beginning 12 November, Bangladesh Railway has augmented the number of coaches in Maitree Express from previous six to seven. Indian Railways had added one coach to its previous six-coach rake on 23 September.Dhaka stationThe move comes in the wake of a significant leap in passenger occupancy in Maitree Express. In 2013-14, the train had registered 68 per cent monthly occupancy from Kolkata; until September this fiscal year, the monthly occupancy stood at 85 per cent. From Dhaka, the train had registered 73 per cent monthly occupancy in 2013-14; until September this fiscal year, the monthly occupancy stood at 86 per cent.

Apart from Maitree Express that plies via the Gede border in Nadia district, three goods trains also ply between India and Bangladesh daily on an average. While two goods trains run via Gede; one goods train operate via the Petrapole border in North 24-Parganas district.

(The author is on the staff of The Statesman, India. This report first appeared in The Statesman on 14 November 2014.)

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Patients forced to buy surgicals, medincies at Bengal’s top dental college

By bappaditya paul

West Bengal’s top dental college ~ the R Ahmed Dental College and Hospital in Kolkata ~ is making patients buy surgical items and medicines from outside that are supposed to be provided for free. Dental CollegeBe it a disposable syringe to IOPA X-ray film, Gutta-Percha / Paper Points or painkillers, the state’s flagship dental college is making patients buy almost everything that are required to treat tooth ailments.

Interns and house staff, who mostly attend to patients in the outpatient department, maintain that they have no choice but to ask people buy surgical items and medicines from outside as these are scarcely supplied by the hospital authorities.

“Every patient is required to buy these items from outside; it is not that we make a distinction or do have a choice to do so. I am not privy whether the government has stopped supplying the items or the issue is something else,” said a final year intern, who is not being named as this reporter spoke to him as a patient. Be it the patients or the dentists at the hospital, nobody finds anything surprising in this. “This is the way things have been going on here for sometime now,” said a senior dentist.   Dental cartoonWorse, the one or two items such as Glass Ionomer Cement (a dental restorative material used for dental fillings), which the hospital offers on patients for free, often run out of stock for weeks altogether without anyone bothering at all. For example, the Endodontics wing of the hospital housed in room no 3A, has ran out of GI Cement since 6 November, making several patients return disappointed everyday.

The hospital superintendent Dr Rahul Samanta expressed “shock” when told that patients were being made to buy surgical items and medicines from outside. “Is it so? This should not be the case as IOPA X-ray films and syringes etc are always being supplied to the departments. I will look into the matter,” said the superintendent whose office chamber is housed just one floor below the OPD treatment rooms.   Dental patientAs regards non-availability of GI Cement, Dr Samanta maintained that there have been some hiccups in procurement of some items due to tender related issues. “The government has made e-tender mandatory for all procurements but since our staff are yet to be properly trained into this, we are continuing by extending the old manual tenders. Due to this, some hiccups in supply is taking place recently,” he said. “We have a purchase committee in place headed by a senior doctor. He should be in a position to explain further.”

When contacted, principal secretary of the state health department, Mr Malay Kumar De, said that there should not be dearth of any treatment items at R Ahmed Dental College as the government was providing it sufficient funds.

“These days, we do not supply anything centrally and rather the hospitals are allotted funds to procure medicine and other items according to their need. In fact to reduce time, a procurement price for each item is fixed by us centrally and there are also empaneled suppliers. If a hospital falls short of funds, they write to us and additional money is released very expeditiously,” Mr De said. “I will definitely probe why the dental college is not providing medical items to patients for free.”

(The author is on the staff of The Statesman, India. This report first appeared in The Statesman on 13 November 2014.)


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