Monday, February 9, 2009

Food for thought from a school for fishermen’s kids

Food for thought from a school for fishermen’s kids
Published Date: 1/27/2009 - (NIE)

G Saravanan

Chennai, January 26: FOR Vinoth Kumar, an eighth standard student at Sacred Heart High School in Paramankeni Kuppam, his school is the second home as it provides him with breakfast and lunch, which his fishermen parents cannnot afford to give him everyday.

The not-so-rich private school, founded specially to impart education for the children of the fishing community, is providing noon-meal and breakfast for its students from its own funds. This is because the school’s plea for a noon-meal centre is still pending for the last six years.

Not only for Vinoth, but for the 100-odd school-going children from the sleepy fishing hamlet Paramankeni Kuppam, tucked between sandy beaches of ECR and TTDC-run Mudaliyarkuppam Boat House near Kalpakkam, the school is the only hope to continue their education. The next available school is 13 kms away from there.

It was founded in 1993 as a primary school and in 2002, it received recognition from the government as a high school. Nearly 270 students, mainly from the nearby fishermen community study here. “During the initial days, we were able to hold students till noon only, as all of them were first generation learners and showed least interest in education. Moreover, their parents never cared about their children’s education and spent most of their time outside home either in the sea or at fish markets,” one of the teachers of the school told Express.

The main problem these children face is the absence of their fishermen parents at home. They will not be at home to prepare food or to advice them on studies. Then the teachers in the school started donating a portion of their salary to make a sustainable fund to run their own noon-meal centre here. Once the food was assured, students started staying till evening and now they even attend tuition till late hours, she added.

With the noon-meal centre demand pending indefinitely with the government, teachers are now uncertain how long they could continue their arrangement for food to themildren. When contacted, an official of the Education Department said that since the Sacred Heart High School in Paramankeni Kuppam was an unaided one, they could not extend the noon meal scheme to them technically and only the government and government-aided schools were eligible for it.

Though the government has its own rules for the noon-meal scheme, the parents and children have appealed to the authorities to consider the plea of the school as as special case, “as a rare of the rarest case.”


Published Date: 1/29/2009 - (NIE)

G Saravanan

Chennai, January 28: THE Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs on Wednesday approved the Chennai Metro Rail Project at a meet in New Delhi. In June 2006, the Tamil Nadu Cabinet decided to implement the project in Chennai. It had ordered the preparation of a detailed project report, which was entrusted to the Delhi Metro Rail Corporation.

The project was declared a “special initiative”. The DPR was submitted on November 1, 2007, and the Tamil Nadu Cabinet approved the project on November 7, 2007. The estimated cost of this project would be Rs 14,600 crore, factoring in escalation, central taxes and interest during the period of construction, but excluding state taxes and value of vacant state government land.

Fifty nine per cent of the cost will be met by a concessional Official Development Assistance loan from Japan. The Central Government will contribute 15% of the project cost as equity and 5% as subordinate debt. The remaining share of the cost (21%) will be met by the State Government in the form of equity (15%) and subordinate debt (6%).

Two corridors with a combined length of 45km will be constructed in the first phase. A length of 24km will be underground, while the remaining elevated. Corridor I, with a length of 23.1km (14.3 km underground and 8.8km elevated), will run from Washermenpet to the Airport via Anna Salai. Corridor II, with length of 22km (9.7km underground and 12.3km elevated), will run from Chennai Central to St. Thomas Mount via Koyambedu.

The portions of Corridor I from Washermenpet to Saidapet on Anna Salai, and Corridor II on Periyar EVR Salai and Anna Nagar Second Avenue, will be underground and the remaining would be elevated. The project is expected to be completed by 2014-15. Chennai Metro Rail Limited, a Special Purpose Vehicle, will implement it, which will be a joint venture with equal equity participation from the Central and State Governments on the DMRC pattern.

It is expected that the trains will run every five minutes. The Metro is expected to move 13 lakh passengers per day from the roads by 2026. It is expected to reduce journey times by 50% to 75%; a passenger will be able to travel from Central Station to Anna Nagar in 14 minutes (30 to 40 minutes by bus) and from Mannady to Airport in 44 minutes (75-90 minutes by bus).


Published Date: 1/5/2009 - (NIE)

G Saravanan

Chennai, January 4: THE proposal to develop the Chennai-Tiruvallur High Road under the Design, Build, Finance, Operate and Transfer (DBFOT) scheme has not only annoyed the residents and regular road users, but also sparked a debate on the NHAI’s hidden intent in doing so.

While people agree that toll roads would help faster movement of traffic and improve road maintenance, they want the toll plazas located on the outskirts of the city and not near any residential area. “Else, using the road would burn a hole in the pockets of the residents,” says Ganesan, a resident of Ambattur OT and a frequent visitor to European countries.

“For the first few years, the toll tax would be low. But after 10-odd years, people may have to cough up huge sums to cross even a small stretch of, say 15-20 km, since the charges could shoot,” he warns. Kandan, a college student from Avadi, says: “While planning toll roads, one must address the question of social responsibility.

The government should provide a free parallel road that will ensure social equity as the poor can still have access to the road network. Unfortunately, there is no alternative stretch along the CTH Road. So, why make it a toll road?” he wonders. According to Ganesan, “it is only in India that we find toll roads well inside residential and busy commercial areas. The recently inaugurated Rajiv Gandhi Salai (Old Mahabalipuram Road) in South Chennai is a classic example.

The whole stretch has many colleges, commercial offices and residential pockets, yet the government has introduced toll tax and people are paying it.” “If road users succumb to the government’s new ploy to mint money, in a few years time, Chennai’s lifelines like Mount Road and Poonamalle High Road could well become toll roads, under the pretext of fund crunch and better maintenance,” Ganesan cautioned. Point taken.

Collectorate turns a blind eye to RTI plea

Collectorate turns a blind eye to RTI plea
Published Date: 12/26/2008 - (NIE)

G Saravanan

Chennai, December 25: Six months have passed since an RTI application was filed with the Chennai Collectorate, seeking details of the implementation of the Prime Minister’s scholarship for tsunami-affected children in Chennai district. But the office is still collecting the ‘details,’ as in their own words, “the chief education officer (CEO) did not provide it.” It is a clear case of passing the buck, K Bharathi, who sought the details through RTI, told Express. The answer given by the Collectorate showed they were not willing to part with the information (list of benefited children) to anyone, said the petitioner, also president of South Indian Fishermen Welfare Association (SIFWA).

The scholarship scheme was launched for the benefit of children, whose families were affected by the tsunami either in the form of loss of lives or livelihood. According to the scheme, such children were to get Rs 300 a month to pay school expenses. The assistance was provided directly, through their parents or guardians. For this, individual bank account in the name of each beneficiary was opened by the State Government. Bharathi strongly suspected that the scholarship for tsunami-affected children was diverted to ineligible students and hence the Collectorate was not ready to part with the information.

In his first RTI application on May 5 this year, Bharathi sought several details such as the number of applications received in Chennai for the scholarship, list of government and private schools which received it and the total amount disbursed towards scholarship till now.

In reply, the office sent a vague letter to Bharathi on June 4. “It can’t be called a reply. The letter was just sent to confuse us,” he said. For a clear question on the number of applicants, the Collectorate replied that the CEO of Chennai district did not provide it. The reply also assured of details, once the CEO sent it to the office. “Before disbursing scholarship amounts to the tsunamiaffected students, the department might have gathered the list of beneficiaries from the district CEO. Only then, they could have conducted a detailed verification of the claims. And the amounts could have been allocated, only on the basis of these details,” Bharathi said.

In its reply, the Collectorate had admitted that 6,200 students from 79 schools received the scholarship through the CEO in 2006-07 academic year. It also revealed that scholarship fund worth nearly Rs 13 lakh have been returned to the office during the same academic year. But it conveniently left out the details on the number of applications received in Chennai, the number of rejections and the grounds on which they were rejected.

Subsequently, Bharathi filed an appeal with the Tamil Nadu State Information Commission to direct the Collectorate to give a detailed reply in a time-bound order. But six months have passed, without a word, added Bharathi.

Councillors’ cartel gets tender jolt

Councillors’ cartel gets tender jolt
Published Date: 12/6/2008 - (NIE)

G Saravanan

Chennai, December 5: The DMK and Congress councillors on Friday prevented more than 20 ‘rebel’ contractors, who bagged projects worth Rs 1 crore a week ago without their “assent” and “knowledge,” from entering the Thiruvottiyur municipality premises. They threatened not to participate in another tender process for works valued around Rs 98 lakh.

Municipality sources said all councillors - both ruling and opposition - had a “syndicate of understanding” for allocating contracts. Developmental works, including construction of drains and roads in their wards, were awarded only to those contractors having allegiance towards them. A handsome commission to the councillor for each project awarded was an ‘unwritten law’ for all registered contractors.

But the sudden developments during last week’s tender process at the municipality is said to have “demoralised” the councillors. On November 27, the last day for filing tenders for various works, a group of five contractors reportedly sneaked in and dropped their completed tender documents into the box minutes before the official deadline. According to a contractor, who wished anonymity, the five contractors downloaded forms through the Net and completed all formalities through e-tender.

With no single form sold from the office till the deadline, councillors thought that the tender process would be postponed.Irate over the ‘slip,’ DMK councillors on Friday sat around the tender box ‘guarding’ it, while another group of the party councillors waited at the entrance to ‘deal’ with the contractors.

Confirming that no one had participated in the latest tender round on Friday, Thiruvottiyur Municipality Commissioner S Ethiraj told Express that the local body had provided good security at the premises, but not a single contractor responded to the tenders.

Asked about the ‘guarding’ of tender boxes by a group of councillors, he said: “I was busy with work inside my cabin and do not know what had happened outside.” The councillors reportedly threatened both the Commissioner and Chairman of the municipality to not to give work orders to contractors who had bidded successfully last week.

But sources in the municipality told Express that the orders could not be stopped since the contractors participated in the process legally. People in the municipality would have to live with pot-holed roads and broken or poorly maintained drains for a few more months since the re-tendering process would be initiated only after considerable time.