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January 7, 2001 - January 10, 2001

Researcher uses TV for literacy Wednesday, January 10, 2001

AHMEDABAD: Even as the Gujarat government aims at achieving 100 per cent literacy in the next 10 years, one man has made his own silent contribution to improving literacy rate in the state.

Assistant professor at the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad's Ravi Mathai Centre for Educational Innovation, Brij Kothari along with his associates has developed what is called Same Language Subtitling (SLS).

The system uses simple subtitles in the same language as is being used in a television programme, especially film songs and music videos, to help what are known as the neo-literates - those who have only recently entered the literate world and are in danger of relapsing into illiteracy - to practice their skills and retain them.

Having tested SLS in two earlier experiments with encouraging results, Kothari has tied up with Doordarshan Kendra, Ahmedabad to subtitle a special programme Geet Tamara Bol Amara from January 15 every Monday. The aim is to attract a larger audience by having competitions and giving out prizes.

"Statistically, we know that 560 million of India's one billion citizens are literate," Kothari says. "But how many of these so-called literates can read a newspaper, write a letter and fill out a form? These are important questions in a country where merely signing one's name is often equated with literacy."

With SLS, a neo-literate gets a chance to read on the screen what he hears, reinforcing the newly learnt skill. "It has been scientifically proved that one will read words if they appear on the TV screen. Besides, it is the same as a kid who has recently learnt to ride a bicycle. He will want to get back to it as soon as possible."

SLS takes full advantage of the overwhelming presence of the television set in Indian homes. Doordarshan itself puts the number of TV homes in the country at 69.1 million with a total viewership of 479.5 million persons. And what better way to ensnare a neo-literate than through the already popular film songs and folk music.

To ensure that his method was not just a whim, Kothari first tested it in the controlled environment at the Memnagar Primary School in Ahmedabad. The standards IV and V students came from lower-income families, mainly migrants from Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and rural Gujarat.

Three mixed groups were created, each with 46 children. The first group was shown subtitled songs previously recorded. The second was shown the same songs without the subtitles while the third was shown no songs at all.

Using various statistical methods, Kothari was able to prove that on every count, children in the 'subtitled group' developed better reading skills than those in the other two groups. "One can interpret that the Gujarati children's Hindi-reading skills can improve, at least initially, from exposure to the language. However, it is not likely to result in rapid or sustained improvement for most people."

The success of the experiment led to local Doordarshan Kendra station director Satish Saxena agreeing to subtitle Chitrageet, their weekly programme of Gujarati film songs. "The response was overwhelming," says Saxena. "We received nearly 3,000 cards from around the state, complimenting us on the programme. Parents and teachers said they were now making their children see the programme to improve their reading skills."

Even people who did not know what those six boxes for pin code on a postcard meant, wrote in how they enjoyed the programme. The pin code boxes would be filled with mane she khabar (What do I know) or mane yaad nathi (I don't remember) or even chagan magan, giving an indication of the level of literacy!

"I would ideally like to duplicate this experiment nationally but producers of Chitrahaar refuse to show any interest," Kothari adds. "In fact it can be duplicated in all national languages."

The IIM professor feels that the National Literacy Mission has succeeded in creating a large number of semi-literates. "Its post-literacy programmes, however, lack imagination. According to their own report, 40 per cent of neo-literates relapse into illiteracy. I would like to see semi-literates turn into 'irreversible literates' and that is where tools like SLS come in."

Bootleggers run a parallel system Wednesday, January 10, 2001

VADODARA: As the city prepares to adorn the sky with colourful kites, residents of Kishanwadi brace themselves for more road accidents, fights and illegal sale of liquor that mark every festival in this area in the eastern fringe of the city. For them, festivals bring along drunken brawls, eve-teasing and other ills.

People claim that liquor is available "in the open" in Kishanwadi. "Police raids have had no impact on this business. Bootleggers and even drunkards are no more scared of the police," says a resident. Illegal liquor trade has turned the area into a dreaded one and a nightmare for the police and common man alike.

Even city police station PI NK Rathod agrees that illegal sale of country-made liquor in carried out in Kishanwadi. "People are scared of bootleggers and do not lodge complaints with the police," says Rathod.

"This is a sensitive area. We don't trust the police and bootleggers roam freely. Moreover, the police are hardly of any help, so we can't afford to fight with bootleggers," says another resident.

While road accidents increase during festival season with children often being hit while trying to hook kites during Uttarayan, the scenario is no better rest of the year.

"The roads are veritable death traps. Unmindful driving or a careless turn round a corner may result in a serious accident," says Sharda Machi, a resident of Kishanwadi. With huts and "larri"s encroaching on the narrow lanes, it is extremely difficult for two-wheeler drivers to manoeuvre their way through. Even the main road, connecting Kishanwadi with Warasia, Nyay Mandir and Panigate, is still a 'kutcha road'. Even the carpeting work on the road has not been completed.

"We also face the menace of stray cattle, goats, pigs and dogs that hover around the garbage that keeps piling up in the area. They spread diseases and often block the roads," says Ramesh Patel of Pramukhswami Society.

Besides, the area lacks hygienic conditions and proper sanitation leading to health-related problems. Residents here complain that many fall sick here as garbage lies scattered across the locality, drains overflow and there is little awareness on cleanliness.

"Cleanliness has always been a problem in these areas with little attention being paid by the departments concerned in the Vadodara Municipal Corporation (VMC). Mounds of garbage and animal excreta and houses built very close to each other with little space for light and air, give the locality a dirty look," says Ila Mehta of Paras Society.

According to Mehta, slum-dwellers should be made aware of personal hygiene and cleanliness so that they keep both their houses and the locality clean. "Even 'safai kamdars' do not carry out their job properly. Many slum-dwellers selling fish in the area leave the locality dirty. The garbage generated by them is hardly cleared away, that decomposes and emanates a foul smell. They also dispose of waste in the open or in the drainage line that's lying open for the past 20 years," says SN Barot of the same society.

And, residents aren't wrong. Kishanwadi presents an ugly sight - stray cattle and goats feeding on heaps of garbage that's attracting flies, mosquitoes, rats and cockroaches. Adding to the squalor are overflowing gutters choked with polythene bags and drain water collecting in pot-holed roads that are not repaired for years.

Though a drainage line was laid recently, it has been left uncovered making it a vulnerable spot for children playing in the neighbourhood. "My six-year-old son fell into a gutter. He might have lost his life but for an alert shopkeeper who rushed to the spot and pulled him out," says Jyotsna Kahar.

The area is also plagued by other civic problems such as non-functional street lights, encroachments and scarcity of drinking water. There are no schools or hospitals in the area.

"Corporators from this area promised to solve our problems after the municipal elections. Now that the polls are over, they hardly visit this place," say most residents.

Traffic congestion and rise in accidents are major problems plaguing the area. Have you demanded a traffic post or signal in these areas?

A demand for traffic posts is necessary and I will soon be approaching the authorities concerned. I will also demand the setting up of parks, schools and hospitals in the area.

Are you aware that sale of illegal liquor is a major problem plaguing Kishanwadi? Residents say it is available openly. Comment.

I have heard that liquor is sold in Kishenwadi. I am aware of where the business is carried out. I will soon start gathering information so that it is easy for the police to initiate action.

Kuldip Sharma's exit will lead to sea change in policing Sunday, January 7, 2001

SURAT: The two-year tenure of Kuldip Sharma as the city police commissioner might have ended on a proverbial note that all is well that ends well. But, with the new incumbent Vineet Kumar Gupta assuming charge on Thursday, there is a possibility that the highly centralised system of policing evolved by his predecessor with the help of a closely knit group of hand-picked officers will be dismantled.

While managing the state of affairs in the city with a population of around 25 lakh, Sharma did try to instil discipline among the police force. But the measures he adopted caused resentment among many. A senior police officer remarked that the former commissioner had faith in a coterie of officers who often overstepped their jurisdiction and meddled in matters they were not concerned with. This, was possible only with the blessings of the outgoing commissioner.

As such, a highly centralised mode of police functioning surfaced in the last two years which at many a times left the police force groping in the dark. And while the figures may show that crime was on the decline , officials who were not in the good books of Sharma now say that there was a conscious exercise not to register many incidents to keep the slate clean.

Sharma's image as a leader of men had got a dent in 1999 when after the police firing during the Ganesh idol procession in Limbayat, two of his senior aides, Vipul Vijoy and Manoj Agarwal, were transferred, as the commissioner maintained that they had ordered fire in spite of his strict orders. The IPS Officers Association had also taken up the case of these two officials before the government at that time and many in the services believed that Sharma should have got the stick.

The physical fitness parade, which he made compulsory for all the police personnel, without taking into consideration that for some it was not physically possible to take part in such an exercise as the previous night they might have had or been engaged in bandobast or in a combing operation. Two nights a week for patrolling were made a must for all the police inspectors, sub-inspectors and other lower rank personnel.

Recalling the day after the murder of jeweller Prakash Jain and his four family members on December 15 in Pandesara, one senior officer said that the entire police force right from deputy commissioner to constables from south zone were instructed to take part in the funeral procession of the victims when everyone were completely exhausted due to the investigation of the murder case in the previous 24 hours.

This kind of policing leads to birth of mechanical response among the subordinates and lack of motivation defeats the basic objective of policing, opined one senior officer.

Even after his transfer was a public knowledge, he issued transfer orders for inspectors and sub-inspectors, which is generally not done as this task is left for the new incumbent, remarked a senior officer. At policy making level, the senior officers were left with no discretion which often created the distance within, a source said.

The change in the high office in the city police is being viewed by senior officers as the required one for arresting the fast depleting motivation among the force, particularly at the lower level.

WREB warns SEBs of north-like tripping Sunday, January 7, 2001

VADODARA: Western Region Electricity Board (WREB) has instructed state electricity boards (SEBs) of Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Gujarat and Goa to keep their operation of power systems to the permissive level to prevent a repeat of the power grid system failure that plunged five northern states into darkness recently.

Instructions have been sent out to these SEBs to ensure that the frequency does not drop to the non-permissive level of 48 KHz or below.

WREB chairman Nalin Bhatt said regional system load rises in the peak periods like December to January and April to June and the available generation sometimes proves to be inadequate to meet the system load.

"In such cases, the system falls to sub-normal levels. Frequency may suddenly drop to the non-permissive level or below when there is a sudden loss in generation due to tripping of a major generating unit or units of 200 MW or more capacity in the system. At such times, other healthy generators may also trip and stop functioning because of the prevailing low frequency," said Bhatt.

He stressed on the need to install under-frequency relays at various sub-stations to prevent collapse of system frequency.

Meanwhile, Gujarat Electricity Board (GEB) will also take up with the WREB the issue of overdrawal of power by Madhya Pradesh State Electricity Board (MPSEB) from the central power projects. GEB feels this has been creating a critical power position in Gujarat, a reliable source told 'The Times of India'.

Power generated by the central sector power projects located in Korba, Vindhyachal, Tarapur, Jhanor, Kawas and Kakrapar is proportionately shared by Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and Goa. The demand of power in Madhya Pradesh has gone up due to scanty rainfall and a drought-like situation.

When conditions are normal, as per a mutual understanding, a member SEB does not bother if its counterpart is overdrawing power. However, the situation this year has been different in Gujarat, which was in the grips of severe drought. North Gujarat needed power for drawing drinking water from tube wells, reservoirs and dams. More power is needed as water tables have been going down considerably.

Chaotic traffic in Mehsana: Authorities have washed hands Sunday, January 7, 2001

MEHSANA: Pot-holed bumpy roads almost everywhere in the city, stray cattle taking possession of the thoroughfares, absence of street lights, people's habit and liking for breaking rules compounded by the indifference of the concerned traffic authorities in Mehsana. The place is increasingly becoming anarchic right from the ONGC Nagar at Palavasana to Ramosana octroi check post on the highway, Modhera Chaar Rasta to the Bhamariya underbridge and beyond, the station road, the Rajmahal road to the police headquarters, Panvara to Hriday Chowk, the Biladi Baag road. In fact, no road or a thoroughfare has been left without traffic hazards and chaos.

When you enter Mehsana via Ahmedabad, the milk city or the oil city greets you with the filthy ambience, with the highway ravaged by rains two years ago, the disappearing divider dotted by twisted lamp posts and countless stray cattle. The nights are dark with dazzling lights of the vehicles making it impossible to sight the cattle or anything else on the road besides the divider. Innumerable auto garages have made the roadside filthy with piles of black dirty rags, grimy sand and oil slick covering roads at many places.

Owing to this traffic chaos, the intersection of five roads near Pashabhai Petrol pump on the highway has become an accident-prone area. This is one of the ugliest and most hazardous spots on the highway because of defective road engineering, absence of traffic control and reckless drivers.

The removal of cabins around the big traffic circle at Modhera cross-roads has eased some pressure on vehicles parked, however the hotels putting benches for their customers continue to contribute to congestion particularly during the peak hours.

The Radhanpur Chaar Rasta with the ugly outshaped barrels forming the circle forms another bottleneck with nobody to regulate the traffic.

According to DSP Ashish Bhatia, it has been decided at a recent meeting of the district traffic advisory committee to build a traffic circle, which has been pending since long, in a short time. The PWD have agreed to build it in two months time, he said. Similarly, a traffic circle at the cross-roads opposite Raj Kamal Petrol Pump is also on the cards, he added.

Bhatia said that in Mehsana it would not be possible to provide traffic signal system, as the topography of the cross-roads was such that it limits its feasibility. The role of traffic police he said was only to regulate the traffic during peak hours, particularly at Modhera and Radhanpur cross-roads and Bhamariya underbridge.

However, the police on these spots are found sitting leisurely in corners unaffected by the traffic jams.

The nagarpalika seems to pass the buck on the PWD for the maintenance of the electric poles and the payment of electricity charges. The president, Manisha Vyas, when contacted said that she was not aware whether it was the responsibility of the municipality or not about the menace of the stray cattle. She said that the nagarpalika did not have a panjrapole to accommodate and feed these cattle and the panjrapole of the Jains would like the nagarpalika to foot the expenses on fodder.

However, it was reliably learnt that the Visnagar MLA who had attended the meeting of the traffic committee had offered to keep as many cattle as Mehsana could send. But Vyas was not aware of the offer as she could not attend the meeting.

The executive engineer (R & B, PWD) is rarely available in his office and it is also reliably learnt that he seldom attends the meetings of the traffic committee. Most of the traffic problems could be solved if proper road engineering is taken care of by the PWD and the pot-holed roads under it are repaired.

Illegal constructions particularly on the highway, encroachments by the auto garages and other businessmen, unauthorised parking of heavy vehicles on both sides were the problems which no authority seems to handle willingly. The DSP said that the pressure on the highway would be reduced only after the bypass is constructed. The proposal for this, he said, had been sanctioned.

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