THE NUMBER OF FOREIGN TOURISTS visiting West Bengal is expected to touch 28 lakh (2.8 million) in the current fiscal year ending March 2016, state tourism minister Bratya Basu told the West Bengal Assembly last week.
This is notwithstanding the alleged gang-rape of a Japanese tourist at Digha and other places in the state by a group of touts-turned-guides in November 2014, which many feared would deter foreigners from visiting Bengal.
According to Mr Basu, 5.04 crore (50.04 million) tourists visited Bengal in 2014 as compared to 2.67 crore (20.67 million) in 2013. Apart from the overall growth, the number of foreign tourists also rose to 14 lakh (1.4 million) from 12.45 lakh (1.245 million) in 2013, registering a growth of 12.44 per cent.
“Our estimate is that the overall number of tourists, as well as the number of foreign tourists, will get doubled this fiscal year (2015-2016),” the minister said. “This has been possible because of the high budget allocation in the past four years that led to improvement in tourism infrastructure in the state. The focus now is on medical, film and religious tourism.”
To keep up with the growth pace, Bengal government will soon embark on a publicity drive emulating the Vibrant Gujarat campaign and the famed private advertising agency Ogilvy and Mather was being hired for this, he said.
In fact, of the Rs 317 crore (3,170 million) budget approved by the state legislature for tourism department this fiscal year, 70 crore (700 million) has alone been earmarked for publicity and promotion.
In 2011-12 the budget allocation for tourism was Rs 44 crore (440 million), in 2012-13 Rs 90 crore (900 million), in 2013-14 Rs 120 crore (1,200 million) and in 2014-15 it was Rs 223 crore (2,230 million).
AN AIR INDIA FLIGHT on Monday became the first passenger flight to touch down and take off from the Kazi Nazrul Islam Airport at Andal near Asansol, thus marking the begining of commercial flight services at the Bengal’s first-ever private greenfield airport.
Air India’s subsidiary Alliance Air operated a 48-seater ATR aircraft from Kolkata to the Andal airport with some ministers of the Bengal government and local cine stars onboard the inaugural flight. The same group was aboard the return flight from Andal.
Andal airport has been developed by Bengal Aerotropolis Projects Limited (BAPL) in collaboration with Singapore based Changi Airports International (CAI). The 650-acre airport is located about 170 km away from Kolkata by road.
Now on, Alliance Air will operate flights between Kolkata and Andal on all days a week barring Friday. Flight AI-9713 will leave Kolkata at 5.05 pm to reach Andal at 5.40 pm. The return flight AI-9714 will depart from Andal at 6.05 pm arriving in Kolkata at 6.40 pm.
The flights will save passengers from Durgapur the time-consuming road journey to Kolkata and provide them onward air connectivity to Air India’s Delhi and Mumbai flights the same evening. BAPL said in a statement that for the onward connectivity, they would facilitate a through check-in.
The flights will meet a long-standing need of the residents of Asansol-Durgapur belt boasting power-intensive industries such as mining, iron and steel, metalwork, engineering, petrochemicals, and telecommunications.
MAMATA GOVT’S PLEA AGAINST CALCUTTA HC ORDER FOR POLLS BY 16 JUNE TO BE HEARD TUESDAY
By bappaditya paul
WEST BENGAL GOVERNMENT on Monday filed a special leave petition (SLP) in the Supreme Court seeking a stay on Calcutta High Court’s 16 April directive wherein it had ordered elections to seven civic bodies in the state by 16 June.
This after a division bench of Calcutta High Court headed by Chief Justice Manjula Chellur last Friday rejected a state government plea for more time to hold the polls.
According to Bengal municipal affairs minister Firhad Hakim, the Apex Court has listed the SLP for hearing on Tuesday. Coinciding this, the Bengal State Election Commission (SEC) has convened a meeting at 3 pm tomorrow with the DMs, SPs and Police Commissioners of the civic poll-bound districts to discuss poll preparations.
The SLP was today filed on a day the Bengal poll commissioner Sushanta Ranjan Upadhaya told an all-party meeting that the notification for elections to the seven civic bodies would be issued on 20 May and the elections would be held on 14 June in pursuance of the 16 June deadline fixed by the High Court.
The seven civic bodies in question are ~ Asansol, Raniganj, Jamuria, Kulti, Bally, Rajarhat-Gopalpur and Bidhannagar. Of them, while the elections to first five civic bodies are long overdue; in case of Rajarhat-Gopalpur and Bidhannagar the current boards would exhaust their term in June.
Going by Section 36 (3) of the West Bengal Municipal Elections Act of 1994 and Section 8 of the West Bengal State Election Commission Act of 1994, state government should first notify the poll date and this has to be followed with a matching notification from the SEC detailing the entire election schedule.
In this case, the SEC can straightway notify the poll schedule citing the High Court directive, an election expert said.
But whether the poll panel will finally issue a poll notification bypassing the state government would depend on the outcome of the Supreme Court proceedings on Tuesday.
MAMATA GOVT HANDING OVER THE TASK TO HEALTH RECRUITMENT BOARD
By bappaditya paul
WEST BENGAL GOVERNMENT is moving a new legislation in the state Assembly next week that will take away the task of conducting recruitments for Dental Services from the State Public Service Commission (PSC) and vest the same in the West Bengal Health Recruitment Board.
Dental Services will be the latest sector to go out of the recruitment ambit of the PSC, which happens to be a Constitutional body.
Last year, the Mamata Banerjee government had taken away the recruitment of Group C and D category staff in government departments from PSC and entrusted it to the newly constituted State Staff Selection Commission formed under a state law.
Government sources maintain that one of the reasons behind such moves is the alleged delay in the recruitment process carried out by the PSC that leaves a substantial number of vacancies in various departments and sectors all the time.
The new legislation ~ The West Bengal State Dental Service (Amendment) Bill, 2015, ~ is listed to be tabled in the state Assembly on 19 May. It seeks to amend the West Bengal State Dental Service Act of 2009 that had vested all recruitments for the state’s Dental Services on the PSC.
The Bill proposes to entrust the recruitments for both the West Bengal Dental Service and the West Bengal Dental Education Service to the West Bengal Health Recruitment Board established under a state law in 2012.
The Dental Education Service is for dental teachers who may or may not be into practice; Dental Service is for non-teaching practicing dentists.
To meet the “huge shortage of (dental) faculty members”, the Bill also proposes to extend by another five years until 2019, the provision for recruiting basic level dental teachers from amongst the cadres of the Dental Service.
The Dental Service Act of 2009 had limited this provision to five years, which ended in August 2014.
According to a health department insider, while around 16 posts of dental teachers are currently lying vacant throughout the state; the number of vacancy in practicing dentist posts is anything between 70-80.
(The author is on the staff of The Statesman, India. This report first appeared in The Statesman on 15 May 2015.)
INS KADMATT GETTING A FINAL TOUCH AT GARDEN REACH YARDS IN KOLKATA
By bappaditya paul
COME OCTOBER and Indian Navy will get a shot in the arm with a new anti-submarine warship joining its fleet at the eastern coast in Visakhapatnam.
Named INS Kadmatt, the anti-submarine warfare (ASW) corvette, is now at the final stage of furnishing at the Garden Reach Shipbuilders and Engineers Ltd (GRSE) in Kolkata. GRSE began building the warship in 2011.
“The ship is almost ready and will be commissioned into the Indian Navy sometimes in October this year. There will be a handing over ceremony in Kolkata, followed by the actual commissioning ceremony at the Eastern Naval Command in Visakhapatnam about a month later,” GRSE chairman and managing director, Rear Admiral (Retd.) A K Verma told The Statesman on Tuesday.
The induction of Kadmatt will be a major boost for the Navy, especially because the force had suffered two consecutive bad years in 2013 and 2014 when mishaps damaged a number of its ships. These include the sinking of INS Sindhurakshak, a guided missile submarine, in August 2013, and the fire in INS Sindhuratna, another guided missile submarine, in February 2014, both off the coast of Mumbai.
Kadmatt is the second warship in Project-28 (P28), under which GRSE is building four ASWs for the Navy with 90 per cent indigenous contents and design. The first one ~ INS Kamorta ~ was inducted into the Navy on 23 August last year, and since then has been a major attraction during visits to foreign countries.“The work on the remaining two ASWs in P-28 ~ Kiltan and Kavaratti ~ is also in progress. We will handover them to the Navy in 2016 and 2017, respectively,” Rear Admiral Verma said. All the four ASW corvettes are named after islands in Andaman & Nicobar and Lakshwadweep.
Kadmatt is around 109 metres in length, around 14 metres wide at its maximum bulge and has an approximate displacement of 3,200 tons. Being built at an estimated cost of Rs 3,000-crore, it happens to be a modern warship with advanced stealth features that have very low Radar Cross Section and very low radiated underwater noise.
The ship is equipped with Super Rapid Gun Mounting, Anti-aircraft Guns, Torpedo Launcher, Rocket Launcher and Chaff Launcher as well as early Warning, Navigation, Fire Control Radars, Under-Water Sensors and an integrated Communication facility and Electronic Warfare System.
The Navy plans to deploy Kadmatt as an advance screen for the Carrier Battle Group to counter any submarine threat and it will be a feared platform for lurking enemy submarines and their nemesis within India’s territorial waters. It is expected to play a significant role in Navy’s submarine hunter/killer capabilities.
Kadmatt is powered by four indigenously designed 3,888 KW diesel engines at 1,050 rpm and has an endurance of about 3,450 nautical miles at 18 knots. The ship will be manned by 17 officers and 106 sailors, and can achieve a maximum speed of 25 knots.
(The author is on the staff of The Statesman,India. This report first appeared in The Statesman on 06 May 2015.)
SIX DAYS AFTER THE RESULTS WERE DECLARED, the Bengal State Election Commission (SEC) on Monday finally notified the poll results of Siliguri Municipal Corporation (SMC) in the state’s Official Gazette, thus paving way for the formation of a new civic board there.
Going by Section 71 of the West Bengal Municipal Elections Act, 1994, notifying the poll results in the Official Gazette is mandatory for a newly elected civic board to take over.
SEC had notified the poll results of Kolkata Municipal Corporation the very next day of declaring the results on 28 April.
The move comes amidst the Left’s allegation that the Trinamul Congress was trying to capture power at SMC by doctoring a defection in rival parties and hence the state government was deliberately delaying the process of forming a new board so to give the Trinamul more time in horse trading.
Of the 47 wards in SMC, the Left has won 23 seats, Trinamul 17, Congress 4, BJP 2 and 1 Independent, who happens to be a rebel Trinamul. Hence, the Left is poised to form the board despite being one seat short of majority.
With the SEC now notifying the SMC poll results, Section 50B of the West Bengal Municipal Act, 1993, makes it imperative for the Darjeeling district magistrate to convene a meeting of the newly elected councillors within 30 days, for forming a new civic board.
Bengal Chief Minister and Trinamul supremo Mamata Banerjee who on Monday afternoon had a meeting in Siliguri with the 17 Trinamul councillors, is reported to have asked them to sit in the Opposition bench.
But political observers suspect that she will always look forward to a defection by other party councillors to grab SMC, even if at a later stage.
This has happened in the past with the Haldia Municipality in East Midnapore, where the Left ruled civic board was toppled by Trinamul through defection.
Meanwhile, the Bengal poll panel is yet to notify the poll results of another 90 civic bodies in the state where elections were held on 25 April and the results were declared on 28 April along with Siliguri.
OF 92 CIVIC BODIES, TRINAMUL WINS 70, LEFT 4, CONG 5, 13 HUNG
By bappaditya paul
THE OUTCOME OF Siliguri Municipal Corporation polls today came as a huge dampener for Mamata Banerjee-led Trinamul Congress on a day the party, as expected, swept the civic elections in Bengal winning 70 of the 92 civic bodies that had gone to ballots.
The elections for Kolkata Municipal Corporation were held on 18 April and in another 91 civic bodies the polls took place on 25 April. The results were declared today.
In Kolkata, Trinamul has won 114 of the 144 seats as compared to the 95 wards it had won in 2010. Left Front’s tally has come down to 15 from previous 33, Congress is down to 5 from previous 10; while the BJP has risen to 7 from the 3 wards it had earlier. Three Independent candidates have also registered victory this time.
But Trinamul’s victory march has come to a grinding halt in Siliguri in northern Bengal, where the Left Front has wrested 23 of the 47 seats; Trinamul has come second with 17 seats, followed by Congress 4, BJP 2 and 1 Independent (rebel Trinamul). Left is likely to form the civic board in Siliguri with the backing of the Independent.
This apart, Trinamul has suffered a setback in Mamata Banerjee’s Assembly constituency Bhowanipore in Kolkata, where the Trinamul ruled KMC’s outgoing chairman Sachidananda Banerjee has lost to BJP candidate in ward 70.
Again, the outgoing Trinamul deputy Mayor of KMC, Farzana Alam, has lost to the CPI-M in ward 65, and Trinamul strongman and MLA Paresh Pal has suffered a defeat at the hands of the Congress in ward 29.
The major upsets in the Opposition camp include, the Left’s Leader of Opposition in outgoing KMC board, Rupa Bagchi, getting defeated by Trinamul in ward 32 and veteran CPI-M leader former MP, Sudhangshu Sil, losing to Congress candidate in ward 20.
Going by the overall results, out of the total 92 civic bodies, Trinamul has won 70, Left 4, Congress 5 and 13 civic bodies have got a fractured mandate (List below). Notwithstanding the pre-election buzz, BJP has not been able to win majority in even a single civic body although the party has increased the number municipal seats in its kitty.
EVM glitch has held up the counting for two wards in Murshidabad and one ward each in Raghunathpur and Madhyamgram but the state election commissioner Sushanta Ranjan Upadhaya said that their outcome would not alter the status of the majority party in these municipalities.
During the elections on 18 and 25 April, there were allegations of violence and massive electoral malpractices by the ruling Trinamul Congress. Local television channels had in fact telecast multiple footage of gun-wielding miscreants targeting Opposition political workers, voters and media persons on the poll days.
PARTY / ALLIANCE WISE WINNING BREAK-UP
TRINAMUL: Kolkata Municipal Corporation, Tufanganj, Mathabhanga, Jalpaiguri, Mal, Gangarampur, English Bazar, Nabadwip, Santipur, Ranaghat, Birnagar, Kalyani, Gayeshpur, Haringhata,Kanchrapara, Halisahar, Naihati, Bhatpara, Garulia, North Barrackpore, Barrackpore, New Barrackpore, Titagarh, Khardah, Kamarhati, Barahnagar, Dum Dum, North Dum Dum, South Dum Dum, Bongaon. Gobardanga, Barasat, Baduria, Basirhat, Ashokenagar-Kalyangarh, Madhyamgram, Budge Budge, Baruipur, Maheshtala, Rajpur-Sonarpur, Uluberia. Hooghly-Chinsurah, Bansberia, Seerampore, Baidyabati, Champdani, Rishra, Konnagar, Arambagh, Uttarpara-Kotrung, Tarakeswar, Dankuni, Chandernagore Municipal Corporation, Tamralipta, Egra, Contai, Chandrakona, Khirpai, Kharar, Ghatal, Purulia, Raghunathpur, Bishnupur, Sonamukhi, Kalna, Memari. Suri, Rampurhat, Sainthia and Bolpur.
LEFT: Dinhata, Jangipur, Taherpur Notified Area and Dainhat.
CONGRESS: Kaliaganj, Islampur, Murshidabad, Kandi and Jhalda.
HUNG: Siliguri, Cooch Behar, Old Malda, Jiaganj-Azimganj, Dhulian, Beldanga, Taki, Joynagar-Mozilpur, Bhadreswar, Ramjibanpur, Kharagpur, Bankura and Katwa.