City Buzz

Archive for January, 2011|Monthly archive page

Issue 12

In Editions on January 23, 2011 at 8:50 am

ADMISSIONS OPEN AT DOG SCHOOL

A residential school for dogs has just opened its doors in Bengaluru, but it’s not just dogs they teach, reports Sonali Desai

If you have been wondering how to deal with your dog’s cranky behavior, this school offers to train it. The school also trains you to handle dogs.

Amrut S Hiranya, who recently came to India from New Zealand after studying canine behaviour, says, “It’s not just the dog that needs to be trained, it’s the owner who needs to learn how to handle it.”

His interest came from childhood, when he used to sit across his school compound and observe street dogs; this eventually helped him earn pocket money when he started selling puppies. 

He finished his engineering and MBA and then went abroad to study canine behaviour. There, he was under observation for a month, after which he was allowed to pay his fees and join the course.

“India does not have such a course. I wanted to study more about how dogs behave. That’s why I took up training as my profession,” Amrut says.

Amrut offers behaviour consultation, obedience training, dog therapies and owner training. He charges Rs 15,000 for the package. He teaches dog behaviour to MBBS students and others. He also facilitates puppy sales, stud service, boarding, and pet grooming.

“Dogs observe everything in the house and identify the master. They follow their master if they are instructed properly. It is important to make some time for the dog. Here in India, we have no idea what we are doing with our dogs. We feed them rice, milk and chocolates, which are not good for canines,” he says.
After a pup crosses four months, milk is like water in its diet, just a hydrating agent.

“Egg, buttermilk, curd and 300 gm of meat every day is very good for a dog’s health,” he says. He also recommends three hours of walking.

For those who think the dog should look adorable, here is a piece of advice from Amrut: “Let them be the way they are. Wash them once in five months and every second day brush its coat. This helps reduce hair fall and make its hair shine.” You can spend just Rs 300 a month on your dog’s diet, but you should know what you are feeding it.

Prashanth  Varadaraja, a module lead at Mind Tree and owner of a golden retriever, had problems with its aggressive behavior. “I took obedience training for my dog when it was four-and-a-half months old because it used to annoy everyone in the family with its impulsive behaviour. It never obeyed my orders and created problems when I took it for walks. A friend told me about Amrut and I approached him for training,” he told City Buzz.

Prashanth says he understands the dog better now. The dog is now 11 months old.

If you plan to buy a dog, Amrut can suggest what breed is best for you. If you want a dog to guard your house, for example, a labrador is a bad choice. “Such mistakes can be avoided if people consult me,” he said.
Amrut has trained around 15-16 dogs so far. He is now working with a group of army men who want to help epileptic patients. Dogs are trained to observe changes in the patient and signal an imminent attack. The patient then relaxes and prepares to face the seizure. “Dogs can detect cancer through their sense of smell,” says Amrut.

You can visit Amrut’s website www.dogguru.in or call him on 9964222211 .

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Issue 11

In Editions on January 23, 2011 at 8:48 am

HACK ATTACK
An Indiranagar businessman is the latest victim of e-mail fraud and the loss is Rs 1.27 lakh. A report by Chetana Belagere with tips on how to guard yourself against cyber cheating

E-mail fraud is claiming more and more victims in Bengaluru. The latest case involves businessman Zakarie Hussain of Indiranagar, whose name was used by a London fraud to cheat one of his acquaintances of Rs 1.27 lakh.

Hussain has approached the police cyber crime cell in Bengaluru after an email from his account asked, and got, a ‘soft loan’ of 1,800 pounds (Rs 1.27 lakh) from one of his acquaintances. “A relative got the mail saying I was stranded and needed money badly. He received another mail, again from my account, with a London address. He was told to send a money transfer,’’ Hussain said.

Feroz, the victim, is a doctor who practices in Koramangala. He did try to speak to Hussain, but couldn’t reach him as he was travelling. Trusting that the mail was real, he has deposited money. Only, after Hussain returned to Bengaluru did he realise that his friend had been duped. “It is possible the accused has rented temporary accomodation in London. Once he gets the money, he probably moves out,” a police officer said.

The police sent an application to Microsoft to get Hussain’s Hotmail account blocked to prevent further misuse. “We have also sent a request for Hussain’s documents to be retrieved,” an investigating officer said. “We are now trying to trace the IP address of the computer used to access Hussain’s account.”

Hussain, who has studied and lived in the US, told City Buzz that he had received a mail asking for his username, password and home country. “The mail had Microsoft’s logo and their corporate address at Washington. I know exactly where their office is and have been using a Hotmail account since 1996. There was just no reason for me to doubt the mail,’’ he said.

Hussain’s woes started after he replied to the mail with his account information. “I believe the frauds studied the mails in my inbox and got to know about what kind of people I have been interacting with,” he said. A Microsoft spokesperson said the company never asks for passwords.

Meanwhile, cyber expert Ravishankar G said while email fraud was a nuisance earlier, now money is the motive. “They circulate emails with pictures. If you click on the picture, a virus is installed on your computer, and it locks all your files automatically. To unlock the files, you are told to pay up. Several people in India fall prey because awareness on Internet security is very low,’’ he said.

A journalist from a national daily was recently asked to attend a press conference in California and South Africa on January 3. The mail, purportedly from a US women’s organisation called Global Relief Reconstruction, Transworld International. It claimed a conference would take place from January 5 to 9 on child sexual abuse at California.

It said: “We picked your e-mail address from the website forwarded to us by the Asia, South America and Africa Students Association in the USA. Our independent donors will finance all-round flight tickets, feeding and accommodation throughout the conference in the United States for all participants.The organizing committees will process US visas for all participants requiring visas to the United States.”

When the journalist replied with her profile, she was asked to pay Rs 50,000 for her stay as there werew some last minute funding problems. Suspecting foulplay, she complained to the cyber crime police. They are investigating.

How the fraud works.
‘STRANDED ABROAD’

An email arrives, purportedly from a webmail service provider Like Microsoft, seeking username, password and country/territory to set your account right.

You forward details. (Sometimes, the scamster simply hacks into your computer).

Soon, your friends receive emails from ‘you’ through your account. They are told that you’re stranded in some foreign country after having lost your wallet and documents and need money to return home.

A postal address is given in the next mail. Sometimes the original mail already has this address. That’s where the money has to be wired.

Your friends and relatives living abroad are the prime targets of this scam, as money can’t be wired from India to a postal address abroad, but only to a bank account.

SOCIAL ENGINEERING
‘Social engineering’ tricks the victim into believing that he is giving information to someone who has the authority to ask for it.

People can also fall prey to social engineering through online or real-life interaction. Online, the hacker can obtain information through chatting, email exchanges, message boards and so on. In real life, a conversation can be struck up with a potential victim.

Another common way is through the telephone. A user may receive a call from someone identifying himself as a systems administrator of his company

TROJAN ATTACK
Specially devised programs, called keyloggers, are surreptitiously installed in the victim’s computer.

These programs can come through backdoor trojans and other viruses. A downloaded video clip, an inocuous birthday greeting, or an email attachment could carry them.

Once inside, the keylogger auto executes and records keystrokes made by the user and transfers email addresses and passwords to the hacker.

The law in India
Social engineering: People who gain access to an email account using social engineering can be booked under Section 463 of the Indian Penal Code. Punishment is two years in jail and/or a fine.

General hacking: Trying to gain unauthorised access to a protected computer system is punishable under Section 70 of the Information Technology Act. Punishment is up to 10 years and or a fine.

Issue 10

In Editions on January 23, 2011 at 8:44 am

PLAYGROUND OF THE RICH

A playground meant exclusively for community sports is instead used to run a ‘sports bar’ and restaurant by the Gymkhana Club, which leased the property for a paltry sum. Shockingly, the government extended its lease for a further 35 years, reports MANJU SHETTAR

A public playground in Cox Town is being used to run a bar, and scandalously, the government has just extended its land lease for 35 years.

The municipal authorities gave a community playground on lease to the Indian Gymkhana Club Association on Wheelers Road in 1932. Their objective was to promote sports. That was a good 70 years ago. The club had to pay just Rs 5 a year as the lease amount. It enjoyed control over four acres and 28 guntas. That expanse, in Bengaluru’s real estate terms, is a fortune of immense magnitude.

The lease amount went up a couple of times, and in 2008, when the last lease ended, it was Rs 75 a year. At that price, you can’t even eat a pizza, and here was a club running a bar and restaurant on land that rightfully belonged to citizens!

In 2008, the government again renewed the lease, and the bar thrives in violation of all rules and regulations, depriving children of the neighbourhood a space to play. How all this came about is a story of venality and corruption. A private party couldn’t have enjoyed public property for so long, and with so much impunity, but for the collusion of officials in the municipal corporation and the government.

In December 1991, the city corporation commissioner requested the government to permit the club to build a sports complex. The government initially rejected the proposal. Again, when the Gymkhana Club approached it, the government gave its approval. Citizens went up in arms, and the government agreed the lung space should be preserved. It ordered the corporation to modify the permission it had given to the club. The club was to be given 1 acre and 4 guntas, and the remaining 3 acres and 24 guntas restored to their original use as a playground.

In 1994, citizen Massy and then councillor N Rajanna filed a case urging that the land be restored to its original use. The case went up to the high court, and then to the Supreme Court, which ruled in favour of the club saying the land had not been notified under the Karnataka Parks, Play-Fields and Open Spaces (Preservation and Regulation) Act 1985 (Public spaces notified under the Act cannot be used for anything other than its original purpose).

At the time, the BBMP’s legal cell opined that the corporation shall wait until the expiry of the lease period to notify it under the Act. But not only did it fail to do this, but in June 2008, the government extended the lease for 4 acres and 28 guntas for 35 years, at an annual lease amount of Rs 60,000 an acre, to be increased by 15 per cent every 3 years. According to Rajanna, the renewal order was signed by S Renukaradhya, secretary of the urban development department. The result: the club still enjoys control over all 4 acres and 28 guntas, where it runs a ‘sports bar’ and restaurant, with the rest of the land fenced out and used as a private park for club members.

Rajanna, who has also served as MLA of Pulakeshinagar, said, “We have been fighting for 15 years for this community playground. When CM Yeddyurappa and BJP leader Ananth Kumar visited the area at election time, they promised to restore the ground to the public, but after the elections, they gave all the land to the club.” He accuses the BBMP and the government of going easy on evicting lessees misusing land, although it knows that public property has been grabbed by the rich and the powerful.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, a BBMP official told City Buzz that the club indeed possesses the land in violation of both corporation rules and the terms of the lease, which dictate that the land be used for sporting activities. Startlingly, he admitted that the corporation was helpless in the matter as it has been “fixed” at the “higher level.”

The official’s view is confirmed by the unapologetic, even brazen response of the club authorities. “We have got our lease renewed, and already paid Rs 60,000 an acre as advance for three years. We have clinched this deal at the CM’s level, and the BBMP comes under the government. The commissioner has to do what the government recommends,” said Prabhu, manager of Indian Gymkhana Club.

When the issue was put before Mujibulla Zafari, deputy commissioner of the BBMP, he would not go further than to state that many of the corporation’s lease agreements have expired and some of the lessees are yet to vacate their premises, “Some organisations have done genuine social service and we are proud of them, but others have misused public land,” he said.

Zafari also promised that action will be taken against the violators soon. That such “action” rarely happens was proved last year, when a committee headed by former additional secretary V Balasubramaniam had estimated that nearly 10,000 acres of BBMP land – a shocking figure when one considers real estate value – was possessed by lessees in violation of norms.

When asked about the legal recourse available to the public in such a case, K Diwakar, senior advocate and advisor to the chief minister said, “The government can withdraw the lease if it is found that public property is being used as private property. But all this happens because the government is negligent. In such cases, the public can protest and put pressure on the government to ensure that they get public land back.”

BBMP opposition party leader M Nagaraju says that he has already made an official complaint about the issue of the corporation’s lessees violating the lease agreements to both the commissioner and the mayor. He says that in spite of complaints by BBMP officials, the state government is refusing to take action against the violators. “The BBMP officials are dragged to court over this issue, but the government does not care about it.”

How a playground was lost

1932: Gymkhana Club gets land on lease for five years at Rs.5 a year. Lease extended and same conditions apply till 1954.

1969: Lease amount goes up to Rs 50 a year, and lease extended for 35 years. From 1978 to 2008, the lease amount is Rs 75 a year.

1991: Corporation commissioner requests government to permit lessee to build a sports complex, but government turns down the idea.

1994: Government changes its mind, accords approval for complex. Citizens are outraged, and protest. Corporation suggests the lease be limited to 1 acre 4 guntas and the rest of the 3 acres 24 guntas be preserved as a community playground. Government orders corporation to modify the building plan and notify the ground under the Karnataka Parks, Play-Fields and Open Spaces (Preservation and Regulation) Act 1985. Club files a case against the order. A public interest case seeks all 4 acres 24 guntas be restored to their original use.

2003: High Court quashes the government order and cancels the sanction accorded by the corporation for a building. Club approaches Supreme Court, which rules in favour of the club as the premises is not notified under KPPF &OS (P&R) Act 1985.

2008: State government extends lease for 35 years at Rs 60,000 an acre every year, with a 15 per cent increase every three years.

Issue 9

In Editions on January 23, 2011 at 8:42 am

University of crime

The Central Prison increasingly resembles a training centre for crime, and is the favourite hunting ground for an underworld perpetually in need of young blood. A report by Chetana Belagere.

The underworld is an industry with an abnormally high employee turnover, whether owing to defections or death at the hands of police or rival gangs. Gangs, as a result, are constantly on the lookout for new recruits. Their favourite hunting ground, according to all reports, are what one police officer refers to as the university of crime: the jail.

“About 90 per cent of new recruits, a majority of who are small-time robbers, come from Parappana Agrahara or Bengaluru central jail,” a source in the city underworld told City Buzz.

Many robbers take up contract killing for gangs as an alternate profession, because when a robber is arrested, it is almost certain that his whole gang is busted. This leaves them with no one who can arrange for bail or provide them with food in jail. This is where the dons come in.

Petty jobs
The recruits also expect to be provided with jobs in the gang after release. They are started out with petty jobs to prove their loyalty and efficiency. Petty criminals with no mob background are also picked up from jails. Once in prison, they are faced with scarcity of food and space, and the fear of being raped.

The easy way out is to join one of the active gangs. Commissioner of police Shankar Bidari admits as much, “Yes, many gangsters have been recruited from jails. Efforts are on to stop the process.” Added a senior police officer, “Inmates use the jail to debate the mistakes that led to their arrests. By the time they are back on the streets, they know every trick in the book to keep cops off their backs.”

Inspector Umesh K of JP Nagar takes the prison-as-crime-university metaphor further in precise terms. “Central prison is like a university. A young boy of about 20 years enter the jail after a street fight between two groups and later turns into a gang leader with numerous murder cases against him. Here, if a person assaults someone, he is considered to have passed his SSLC. A more severe assault is like passing PUC, while a murder equals graduation. After that comes the post graduation level where he specialises in different areas like supari killings, use of arms, threat calls etc and begins to lead the gang.”

Other recruits

Gangs also recruit informers with criminal backgrounds. “They are appointed with an eye on liaising with the police after a killing. The ploy is to mislead investigators, giving the shooters sufficient time to escape,” said the source.

While majority of the recruits come from a poor economic background and emerge out of slums, there are some who are from well-to-do families and educated. Most of them join the gangs to make a quick buck or for revenge. A large number of new recruits are migrants to the city from neighbouring Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu.

Freelancers
The gangs are also increasingly appointing freelancers. “Hiring killers on a contract basis works very well for us, as there are no liabilities. Once a contract killer is paid, there is no connection with the gang and it makes it difficult for the police to reach the big bosses,” said a source.

New members to gangs are mostly groomed in jails. It begins with offering help. Even little physical comforts like coupons for the prison canteen creates an obligation, leading to involvement with the gang. It is important to note that people without a criminal background who are recruited to gangs are often those with no local roots.

Recruitment also happens at the local level. For instance, if a fight over cricket or carrom turns violent and results in an arrest, the neighbourhood representative of a gang usually comes into the picture to help.

Hire-n-fire
Hiring:
Different gangs have different hiring policies. For members of Bettangere Seena gang it is almost always permanent employment, with monthly salaries and even pensions for families of slain members.

For members of the Silenta Sunil gang, very few are on pay roll. Most of his assassins are freelancers, who are paid as per the contract. He himself is one. All the other gangs usually employ freelancers.

Firing: A new recruit is an asset for the gang till the law catches up with him. If the law gets too close or they outlive their utility, gangs have been known to turn them over to the police. If a gang member defects to another gang, he is liable to be killed.

Climbing the underworld ladder
Level 1: New recruits are given an advance of Rs 5,000 as a show of faith. They are then assigned tasks like watching targets, collecting information and other petty logistical jobs. They are paid nominal amount of about Rs 5,000 once in a while for doing odd jobs.

Level 2: Promising workers are given jobs like supplying arms and passing information. They are paid around Rs 10,000 to 15,000. Even their payments are erratic.

Level 3: Once they have proven their loyalty and efficiency, the gang places them in departments that they specialise in and even send them to other states for postings.

At the top: Gangsters who reach this level often defect to other gangs or start their own gang like Bettangere Seena and Sunil.

The ‘best recruiters’

Bettanagere Seena

Rowdy Sunil

Korangu

Kavala

Cycle Ravi

Vedi

Issue 8

In Editions on January 23, 2011 at 8:26 am

The underpass racket

Only 60 percent of the money sanctioned for underpasses goes into the actual construction, while the rest goes ‘under the table’ – the reason why underpasses are built whether they are needed or not. Sarmistha Acharya investigates.

Officials, councillors, contractors fudge figures to justify underpasses
Tagore Circle underpass traffic grossly overestimated to get approval

Even by the scale of notoriously shady public infrastructure deals, underpass construction is a racket like no other, a City Buzz investigation has revealed. So much so that the loot happens along fixed lines: a whopping 40 per cent of the project’s estimated cost neatly divided between contractors, officials and politicians. With a single underpass project costing at least Rs 15 crore, and with project costs often revised and escalated, that’s a lot of public money passing into the coffers of officials and contractors. Besides, since the actual work itself is done with the remaining 60 per cent, and with poor quality material, this also poses a danger for public safety.

The 60:40 equation
Speaking on condition of anonymity, a senior official revealed to City Buzz, “The usual practice is for the contractor to take 20 per cent, and distribute another 20 per cent among BBMP officials, the area corporator, onsite inspectors, engineers and others for facilitating it.”

“Officials make money from the underpass construction in two ways: overestimation and under inspection,” said Dr Ashwin Mahesh, member of Agenda for Bengaluru Infrastructure and Development Task Force (ABIDE). “Many of the underpasses coming up inside the city are not required at all. Even if they are necessary, they should be undertaken only with the consent of local people, and only if they demand them,” he adds.

‘Creating’ a need
The majority of the underpasses in the city were proposed after a Karnataka High Court statement declared them to be “technically safer” than flyovers. There are currently some 30 underpass projects in the pipeline. According to insiders, it is the BBMP-contractor nexus that promotes underpasses and flyovers at locations where they are not required. The underpass being constructed at Tagore Circle, at the cost of a whopping Rs 28 crore and despite stiff public protests, is one such case, and there are many others.

CR Gopinath, a former general manager of Hindustan Aeronautics Limited, who lives near Tagore Circle, has been active in leading the protest. He enlisted the help of a bunch of BMS Engineering College students to conduct a study to measure the actual traffic flow on KR road where the underpass is being built. “Our data showed the traffic flow in peak hours is 4,000 PCUs per hour, which flatly contradicts the BBMP’s figure of 14,000 PCUs, which was used to justify the need for this underpass,” said Gopinath.  A PCU is a passenger car unit.

Former minister BK Chandrasekhar agrees that the Tagore Circle underpass is indeed being forced on the public. “The Tagore Circle underpass is not needed at all. Somebody from the BJP side struck a deal with the contractor for the underpass, that is what I have learned,” he told City Buzz, pointing out that that there is no underpass on the way to the airport despite the traffic congestion.

Shady tenders
Moreover, officials City Buzz spoke to say that it’s an open secret that the BBMP gives contracts for infrastructure projects to companies that benefit them the most – and not on the basis of technical capability or other criteria. The usual process is to prepare a project report, based on which the funds are sanctioned. Following this, a Detailed Project Report (DPR) is prepared, followed by tendering of the project.

An official said, “It is suspicious that the DPRs are always prepared by the STUP consultancy, who are only structure designers and not transport engineers. Also, the norms require the BBMP to open tender application forms only at the closing of the tender, which is rarely followed, so as to favour particular contractors.”

Deliberate delays
It is also not uncommon for the officials to collude with contractors to delay the work, driving projects costs through the roof. The extreme delay in the construction of the Puttenahalli and Kadirenahalli underpasses (story on Page 5) are only two recent examples of this. BBMP opposition party leader M Nagaraj minced no words when he said, “There is definitely a nexus between the contractors and BBMP engineers. Projects scheduled to be completed in months stretch into years, which is then used as an excuse to escalate project cost saying the cost of materials has increased.”

Shoddy execution
Experts point out many underpasses that are poorly planned or shoddily executed. According to Prof MN Sreehari, advisor to the Government of Karnataka for traffic, transportation and infrastructure, “The Maharani College underpass is a failure as it was constructed in the wrong direction on Palace Road, where the flow of traffic is not much. Had it been built on Seshadri Road, it would have been most useful”.

Sreehari also points to the National College flyover in Basavanagudi as a similarly wasteful project. “The flyover was built even though the traffic study showed that the flow was extremely low at 2,750 PCU (passenger car units) per hour, while BBMP’s own norms require the traffic flow to be at least 10,000 PCUs per hour to justify the construction of a flyover or underpass.” Ashwin Mahesh cites the Cauvery junction underpass as an example of another badly executed project.

‘There’s no scam’
When asked to respond to these allegations, deputy mayor N Dayanand said, “Underpasses and flyovers are constructed not according to the present traffic flow but to meet the future demand. City traffic is expected to increase hugely in the future.”

He also denied that there was any corruption involved in the projects. “The elected members don’t play any role in the underpass construction; they are only the policy makers. All proposals for the project work have three stages of testing. At its first stage, the project work has to be approved by assistant engineers, then by the executive engineers and finally by the members of Technical and Vigilance Cell (TVCC). So there is no question of money scam.”

Dayanand, who is an M Tech himself, further denied that there was any influence from the BBMP on the contractors. “We have an e-procurement system where in a person can get to know about the project work, the amount of funds, the tendering process etc. Besides, there is a third party auditing the whole underpass construction process,” he said.
Sure, sir, but what explains projects being taken up against the public wishes?

Issue 7

In Editions on January 23, 2011 at 8:23 am

A scam on your footpath

Private companies building the new kiosk-type bus shelters violate guidelines and default on tax and rent. A report by Manju Shettar.

It is hard not to notice them: the dozens of new kiosk-style bus shelters displaying back-lit advertisements across the city. What is not known is that the private companies that built these have violated a host of norms and defaulted on ground rent and advertisement tax.

The shelters have been displaying ads for over eight months, and at the rate of about Rs 40 lakh a month, Rs 3.24 crore is due to the BBMP so far. Also, out of the total 288 shelters planned in the city, 60 are yet to be completed, although the deadline set by the BBMP was April 9, 2010.

According to opposition leaders at the BBMP, this violates the contract signed between the Palike and the companies. Not only that, the constructions violate BBMP by-laws.  “These companies have acquired portions of the footpath and violated rules for displaying advertisements. They have not provided bus timings, route maps and guidelines for the public, as required under the by-laws. Besides, a by-law stipulates that two display spaces of 4 x10 ft each be reserved for social messages related to health and the environment, but they are displaying ads there as well,” says M Nagaraju, the opposition party leader at the BBMP. Some shelters haven’t been completed yet, but they are already displaying ads and earning revenue.

Ramachandra Murthy, BBMP deputy commissioner in charge of advertisements, said, “A couple of companies have paid their tax and rent for one year, and we have sent notices to those who haven’t. Kiosk-model bus shelters were approved by a new BBMP committee and we have an agreement signed with the companies for five years.”
Murthy denied that the side panels had to be reserved for social messages, saying it was not required for the new kiosk-type model, and therefore no action was warranted.

Construction of several shelters was stopped after citizens raised an outcry, saying they were improperly located and encroached on footpaths. BBMP officials admit they had asked the companies to stop the construction in areas where people protested, and have asked the BMTC to build shelters on those locations.

When City Buzz spoke to PV Basavaraju, towner of Ripple Media, one of the companies licensed by BBMP to construct the shelters, he said the BBMP must have “forgotten” that they had collected rent and tax. He said he had paid Rs 36 lakh as advance rent and licence fee for the first year. However, he admitted that he had not approached the BMTC for route maps or bus timings, and said he would “certainly put them up” if the BMTC gave them to him.
BBMP opposition leader Nagaraju is dismissive of the claims of both officials and companies. “They haven’t made any payment. Do they have any proof for the payments?” he asked.

He alleged the companies had struck a deal with officials. “A minister is also involved, which I will soon prove with the help of records. The Palike has lost more than Rs 3 crore so far,” he said.
But what is really suspect here is why the BBMP demolished the perfectly functional, elegantly designed bus shelters put in place under the initiative of the Bangalore Agenda Task Force to thrust a whole new set of shelters on the hapless public. Perhaps that is the bigger bus shelter scam.

Companies that are building new bus shelters for BBMP
4Ripple Media – 50 bus shelters
4Movva – 51 bus shelters
4Vantage – 75 bus shelters
4Skyline – 50 bus shelters
4Ooh – 62 bus shelters

Issue 6

In Editions on January 23, 2011 at 8:15 am

WAS HE ASKED TO GO?
Vishweshwar Bhat, editor of Karnataka’s leading daily Vijaya Karnataka, exits amid a whirlwind of rumours and speculation. An exclusive report by Chetana Belagere.

Vishweshwar Bhat, editor of Vijaya Karnataka, has resigned, setting off speculation about what could have led to his exit. He told City Buzz he had begun to feel uncomfortable in the past few months, even though he hadn’t encountered anything unpleasant in the office.

However, many in Bengaluru’s journalism circles are saying he was asked to leave. Bhat, who made Tiumes of India owned Vijaya Karnataka the state’s most widely read daily, announced his resignation on Wednesday after meeting senior executives of the Times Group including chief executive officer Ravi Dhariwal, who were in Bengaluru.
“I wanted a three-year break which the Jains (owners of Times Group) didn’t agree to. I plan to study, now that I am free of professional commitments,” he told City Buzz.

A Times Group insider said E Raghavan, a former editor of the southern edition of Economic Times and current editor of Vijaya Next (which is to Vijaya Karnataka what the Crest edition is to the Times), would replace Bhat.
What led to it?

Bhat had made many enemies. The paper veered overtly to the right, much to the discomfiture of his bosses. In the past six months, several hardline Hindu and anti-Christian articles had appeared in the paper. Retired judge M F Saldanha had got them translated and mailed to Bhat’s bosses in Mumbai.

Meanwhile the management had given enough indications they wanted him to quit. After the CEO, Chinnan Das was transferred from Vijayanand Publications Ltd, the sub-group that runs Vijaya Karnataka, and Sunil Rajshekar was brought in his place, Bhat could not establish a rapport with him. Columnists like Pratap Simha wrote aggressively against minority communities, leaving the management vulnerable to charges of communalism. Bhat’s bosses also reportedly questioned his integrity after he built a house in Rajarajeshwari Nagar.

Sensational story
Of the many big stories Vijaya Karnataka broke during his tenure was the one about minister Halappa, who was accused of rape. Halappa lost his cabinet position. In the public perception, Bhat was pro-BJP but anti-Yeddiyurappa. He began to attack Yeddyurappa but sided with his cabinet colleagues Shoba Karandlaje, the Reddy brothers, and Aravind Limbavali.

Gauri Lankesh, editor of Gauri Lankesh Patrike, has been writing for years against Bhat and his “Hindutva agenda.” She is relieved he will no longer edit the paper. She in one of her columns wrote: “Ever since Vijaya Karnataka was launched in 1999, the state has witnessed a media war, fought on both price and content. Unfortunately, the idea that the more ‘Hindutva’ the publication is, the more readers it will gain, has spread. Add to this the fact that proprietors and editorial staff are often from the Hindutva camp, and the combination becomes even more rabid.”

Editor who changed the game
Bhat is a gold medalist in journalism. He used a simple style, and took newspaper reading to an untapped audience in the districts. He turned Vijaya Karnataka into a market leader, beating Prajavani of the Deccan Herald group in less than five years, with a series of innovations. He encouraged many young writers, who brought a snappy tabloid style to the paper. Several sub-editors and reporters, now resident editors for the paper’s district editions, were trained under him.

An MSc in geology, his love of writing prompted him to take up an MA in journalism. He went to England to do an advanced journalism course. His political interests were no secret: he worked as Officer on Special Duty to H N Ananth Kumar, then a minister in the Vajpayee cabinet. Bhat was assistant professor at Asian College of Journalism when it was run by the Indian Express group in Bengaluru.

Bhat’s colleagues know him as an avid reader. He has translated several books into Kannada, which sold well. As a hands-on editor, he packaged news well, and introduced modern layouts and fun headlines to Kannada journalism. Bhat was the only editor in Kannada journalism who did not get stuff written by ghost writers. Naturally, several readers are writing supportive messages on his Facebook wall.

A right-wing journalist
Vijaya Karnataka was launched by Vijay Sankeshwar who, when he started the paper, was already a senior BJP member of parliament. After some trial and error, he picked Vishweshwar Bhat to be his editor.

Bhat was a member of the ABVP and maintains close links with the sangh parivar’s many outfits. Once Bhat took over, he brought in writers from the saffron brigade. One of them was Pratap Simha, who raves and rants in his weekly column against “pseudo secularists” or anyone opposed to the sangh parivar. Thanks to this official atmosphere, many of Vijaya Karnataka’s reporters and sub-editors had developed right-wing sympathies.

Without doubt, Bhat was widely seen as a rightwing journalist. Additionally, the management started asking questions about where he got the money to build a posh house. Many in the Yeddyurappa government had complained to the Times Group against him.

As the paper had fallen to the No 2 position and was losing numbers, the management was also keen to induct someone who could halt the slide. A source said the management had been hinting he should leave. The Times Group had invested Rs 300 crore in the paper when they bought it from Sankeshwar. They have made enough money from it to feel comfortable about a change in leadership.

Issue 5

In Editions on January 23, 2011 at 8:10 am

Mission admission

Stress levels hit a new high as parents try to secure school admissions for their children. A report by Chetana Belagere

Parents are going to ridiculous lengths to get their children admitted in school this year. Rashmi and Shankar (and others like them) have shut themselves at home, not only declining social invites, but refusing to go to work for the past 10 days. All of it, in expectation of that one phone call they simply cannot afford to miss, from the school they hope to get their two-and-half-year-old admitted in.

The admission hysteria currently sweeping the city is unprecedented. The rush for admission to nursery and LKG classes has driven many parents beyond the usual frenzy – of filling up admission forms, putting together documents and arranging mock interviews for their wards. They are skipping office at loss of pay and forming support groups to cope with the tension of waiting for that ‘make-or-break’ call.

Ring ring
The moment the phone rings, these anxious parents fanatically run to answer it.
“I have not gone to office for10 days and I have asked my husband to take leave for the next 10 days. We have applied for a seat at National Public School and New Horizon School for my three-year-old son, and are expecting a call anytime. We have been told that the applications will first be screened and shortlisted and we will then be told if our child has been selected for a personal interview,” Rashmi told City Buzz.

No fixed time
Most schools do not clearly mention the date or time when they will make the call. One sign of the sheer emotional investment in the call is that many parents even worry that schools might dismiss the application if they receive no response after two rings of the telephone.

“I have heard that the school authorities can call any time from 10 am to 5 pm and if we do not answer the call within two rings or if the line is waiting, they reject the application. That is the reason we don’t take other calls,” said Anjali Kapoor, who has applied to Vidyasagar School for her child.

Another parent who didn’t wish to be named said she had applied at NPS Indiranagar, and found out after 10 days that her child had been rejected. “I don’t understand on what basis they did that. We have now applied for New Horizon and are waiting for the school to call,” said the despairing mother.

Parents are also busy preparing their children for day they would be called for an ‘interactive session,’ the procedure schools follow after a Delhi High Court verdict banned interviews. While some parents approve of the ‘interactive sessions,’ others say it is just a euphemism for a test. They put in great effort to prepare the child to face questions.
“My daughter is very shy. She knows everything she needs to know at her level but does not interact much with strangers. Now I take her to my friends’ house and make them ask her interview-type questions. If she fails to reply, I’ll train her again.” said Kapoor.

Psychologists flooded
Mental health professionals City Buzz spoke to confirm the trend. Vikram Prabhu, a psychiatrist at Sagar Hospital, says, “Increasingly, people approach us with stress disorders, and on enquiry, reveal that they are stressed out about their children’s admissions. Many of them also suffer from gastrointestinal problems, common under extreme stress. Anxiety levels are particularly high among parents from nuclear families.”

Uma Hirisave, child psychologist at Nimhans, sees increased levels of stress among children as well. “Kids, no matter how young, sense the parents’ anxiety, and are affected by it. Besides, they are trained for all kinds of activities and tests during this time.”

Anxious parents are also flooding internet forums like Parenting.in and Zeeksha.com with queries about admissions. Many posts are about whether particular schools have started making their calls and preparations for ‘interactive sessions.’

Vague criteria
Though the criteria for selection are not always clear, here are some of the ways in which schools screen applications. A parent told City Buzz, “Preference is given to children whose siblings are already in school. This is followed by factors like proximity, gender (girls are preferred), whether or not parents are alumni, children of the school’s teachers, children whose mothers are housewives, and migrating children,” said Radhika Rao. This also means that the first child and the single child have it a lot tougher.

In some schools, besides migratory children, the parents’ qualification is also taken into consideration. In Bishop Cotton Boys’ School, first preference is given to the community running the school. “About 40 per cent of seats go to Christians, followed by alumnus, siblings, and children of parents with transferable government jobs,” said Lt Col John Ellis, principal.

In unaided schools which follow the state board syllabus, first priority is given to local residents and children who have completed three years. In fact, the Karnataka Education Act states: “Every recognised educational institution imparting education from pre-primary up to degree level, and situated within a larger urban area or smaller urban area, shall admit in each year such number of students not exceeding 25 percent of the total intake in each class.”
“The demand is more and supply is less. Hence, chalking out the criteria helps a fair admission process as each carries a certain weightage. Though a child with siblings stands a higher chance, the same weightage is given to proximity if a parent has only one child,” a member of the management board at Delhi Public School told City Buzz.

He said that at least 30 per cent of the seats are given to children with siblings and the remaining percentage falls into other criterion. “Around 3 per cent of our students are children of teachers, and 45 per cent are from areas in the neighborhood,” he explained.

Play schools too
It is not just parents working themselves into a frenzy, play schools too are drawing up guidelines for parents to follow. Parents are now scrambling to get their children enrolled in the best play schools, which offer workshops and sessions for parents as well. Blogs are already full of questions from anxious parents, who are asking others to share the kind of questions that will be asked, and the “best answers.”

Child psychologist Hirisave warns, “It often happens that kids end up blaming themselves for their inability to get into schools of their parents’ choice, even though they have not appeared for a single interview or test. School admissions are the first step in a child’s life and this is hardly the right way to go about it. Parents should stop making a big hue and cry over admissions.”

Issue 4

In Editions on January 23, 2011 at 8:03 am

Black Magic Village
*Entire families found murdered near ‘treaure spot’
*Teenage girls forced to run naked in bizarre ritual

Suicides and bloodcurdling tales of human sacrifice emerge from Arkavathy Layout on the outskirts of Bengaluru. Chetana Belagere lifts the veil of secrecy

As soon as the clock strikes eight at night, most people in this village on the outskirts of Bengaluru shut their doors.  They usually do not dare open them until dawn breaks. The village graveyards come alive with the sound of tantric chants. If you venture out in these parts, do not be surprised to see a woman or a child being tortured or sacrificed to some unknown god. Because you are in Sampigehalli, Bengaluru’s black magic village.

The  village, just about 20 km from our much hyped IT city, has entered police records for all all things bizarre: teenaged girls running naked, or an entire village going into mass hiccups, or whole families being murdered with no apparent explanation….

Bizarre rituals
Sampigehalli, Kodihalli, Amruthahalli, Hegde Nagar, KG Halli, DG Halli and Arkavati Layout are some notorious villages near Jakkur believed to be in the grip of mass “black magic” fear psychosis, termed “bhanamathi” in Kannada.

According to Chandrappa (45), who lives in Sampigehalli, about 20 young girls, almost all of them in their teens, ran naked in the village last fortnight. The reason: the local self-styled witch doctor suggested the act to counter some gynaecological problem women in the village were suffering.

In police records are numerous tantrics arrested for performing black magic rituals or asking people to conduct heinous acts in the name of black magic. In 2009, a man, his wife, their two children and two neighbours were found dead in a well in Arkavati Layout. The magician reportedly had assured the man that he would find a treasure if he took along two sumangalis (married women), two kanyas (virgins) and two children, and offered pooja at the isolated well. It is not clear whether the murderer knew it would eventually involve human sacrifice.

“There was competition between two black magic performers—Chand Pasha and Asgar Ali, which eventually led to the death of one and the brutal murder of the other,” explains Sampigehalli inspector Ratnakar Shetty.

These are just some cases registered in police records. Many incidents go unreported, says Shetty. “The womenfolk aren’t inhibited, nor do the men bother about the modesty of their women, as the entire village is in the grip of bhanamathi,” says Dhananjaya, a social activist in the area.

In the name of bhanamathi
More than 100 people in the area claim to possess special powers. Referred to as tantrics or ameens, they mostly hail from Kollegal and Kolar. They find gullible victims and convince them that someone has cast a spell on them, which they need to counter.

“They tell a family a treasure is hidden under their house. They then start talking about the sacrifice of a virgin or a child. Greed gets the better of people and they agree to horrific rituals,” says Dhatriappa (60) from Amrutahalli.

Shockingly, the tantrics even convince families to bring their virgin daughters to the graveyard to have sex with them. “This they believe will cure the family of all its illnesses and rid it of evil spells. Such cases don’t get reported as it concerns the girl’s future,” explains Dhatriappa.

In the case where girls were made to run naked, the tantric who claimed to be from Kollegal near Mysore not only put them through the humiliation but also charged them Rs 3,000 each.

According to another villager, some women openly have illicit affairs, but their husbands overlook it, thinking they are in the grip of bhanamathi.

Notorious well
A well situated in Arkavati Layout near Jakkur is said to be where many women and children have been sacrificed. This was where six persons were found dead after a black magician told them they could discover a buried treasure inside.

The belief goes that a big treasure is hidden under the water in the well, and once someone is sacrificed there, it shifts from that area to the sacrificer’s house. “This is the reason you find many people dying here. But unfortunately, in police records, they get registered as suicides or unnatural deaths,” says Shetty.

Anti-black magic campaign
The local police and some voluntary organisations have launched a campaign against superstitions and black magic in and around this village.
Through interactive sessions, the police are trying to expose black magicians’ feats as mere cheap tricks.

“Womenfolk are the most affected and we are trying to help them understand,” said Shantamma Gopal, who lives in the area.

Deepak Sharma, a PhD student studying cults in Karnataka, says people here believe that human sacrifices used to take place in their village in ancient times. They have preserved ancient swords, believed to have had been used for human sacrifice, as a mark of respect to their forefathers.

Black magic ‘hot spots’
Kollegal
Kolar
Bagepalli (on the Karnataka-Andhra Pradesh border)

‘I was branded a witch’
Sangeetha Narayana of Hegde Nagar is among several women and girls victimised in the name of witchcraft. She was married to Narayana when she was 12. She delivered three children and the family was leading a happy life. One day, the daughter of a neighbour fell ill and the members of the village approached a tantric. The tantric said Sangeetha was guilty of using black magic on the girl.
“I was subjected to such inhuman acts I still cannot forget. I was forced to eat human excreta and drink urine in the name purification. After that incident I was blamed for everything bad happening in the village. Even my husband was unable to protect me. We then moved away from that area to JJ Nagar,” she explained.

Damini, a 19-year-old, was another victim of harassment. Her grandmother was branded a witch. Damini, who became an orphan at the age of eight, was the third child of her family and was living with her grandmother.
After a neighbour’s death, the villagers put the blame on her grandmother and brutally beat her up. The family was boycotted, and prevented from moving around in the village.

“One day when the villagers came to beat my grandmother I stood at the door and told them they would have to kill me first, and they were forced to go away. I took the matter to the panchayat and asked them why if my grandmother could kill anyone she could not protect herself. They accepted my argument and agreed not to harass us anymore.”

Issue 2

In Editions on January 22, 2011 at 6:11 pm

Outsourcing comes to kindergarten

Many parents are hiring agencies to do their nursery kids’ homework. What you thought was child’s play is now big business, says Chetana Belagere.

City Buzz unearths five home work agencies

They even forge your child’s handwriting

Minimum charge for an assignment: Rs 500

It is fairly well known that students in professional courses often ‘outsource’ their assignments to professional agencies. But did you know that a child’s LKG homework can be outsourced to such agencies?

These agencies not only do the homework, also courier the completed material in just 24 hours. Many Bengaluru parents are going to such homework agencies, raising questions about integrity and ethics, and also about the workload imposed on small children by the
school system.

City Buzz found that at least five such agencies are functioning in Bengaluru. We decided to find out how they operate and found that if money is no constraint, parents can get any kind of homework done and delivered in time for that all important school
deadline.

Handwriting sample
Gone are the days when parent and child had to sit together and refer to atlases and encyclopedias, and leaf through magazines to get relevant pictures for a chart or a table
to impress the teacher. Now, an agency will do all of it, starting from selecting pictures to writing captions, and that too in a handwriting that matches your child’s (all you need to do is provide them with a sample!). This reporter posed as the mother of a second standard child and approached Reena, who runs such an agency. I asked for details of how much a homework assignment involving a pictorial representation of the solar system would cost and how soon it could be delivered to us.

“All transactions happen over the phone and email. We first talk to the customers over the phone, take the order and then tell them how much it costs over email. Once the order is confirmed we send the account number to which the amount can be deposited. The
homework is delivered within 24 hours of receiving the payment,” Reena explained. Along with the assignment, the agencies always ask for a scanned copy of the child’s worksheet. This is to ensure that the handwriting is copied or forged well and doesn’t
raise suspicion among teachers.

“Don’t worry, we will write very close to your son’s handwriting. It will look like a kid’s handwriting. His teacher will not get any doubt,” explained Deepika from Homework Help, another agency approached by City Buzz.

Doesn’t come cheap
It would seem that only parents who are really well off can afford to ‘outsource’ their child’s homework. The agencies will not take any assignment below Rs 500; be it for LKG, Class 1 or Class 10, all projects are priced Rs 500 or above.

Representatives of the agencies we approached said that they tend to get busier during the holidays. As most schools burden kids with homework even during their holidays, parents get desperate, they say. Parents don’t want children to miss out on their holiday
trips. They are also concerned that the kids could cut a sorry figure in front of the teachers or be punished. Their solution is to approach such agencies.

“We do all kinds of homework, including charts, models, diagrams, project files, scrap books, flash cards, Powerpoint presentations, craft work and so on. Even last minute holiday homework will be completed. Parents need not worry about children completing
homework on time. In fact, even visits to the planetarium or the museums can be described,” said Priyanka who runs such an agency from her house in Malleswaram.

Who’s to blame?
Though many parents, teachers and principals City Buzz spoke to were shocked to learn about the homework outsourcing business, parents and agencies are not the only ones to blame.

Jayaram Naik, a parent asks, “Could it mean that schools that give too much work to children are meaningless? What would a child do if pressed to submit an assignment on the solar system the very next day? Where is the time when he or she has to probably
also prepare for a class test? I am all for homework and class tests but not at the cost of stressing children out beyond a point.”
Dhriti S A, parent and private bank employee, is convinced that this is sign of our times. “The pace of development is only accelerating and we cannot stop it. So as adults, we get mundane things done through technology so that we can focus on more important things. However, the early years of life are critical to our development. So if kids get dependent on getting someone else to do their homework, they will suffer later in life.”

Parent Namratha Chanappa said, “While we are seriously offended by the very thought of someone else doing our child’s homework, clearly there are people out there who feel it is okay. In a free market, as long as there is demand, there will be supply. The hard workers will undoubtedly be more successful in the long run. As they say, there is no short cut to success.”

Some believe this is nothing really new. Sriram Sampath, a software engineer and a father of two, says, “Well, earlier, the parents used to make these charts and models, and now some professional does it. The only difference is that earlier the parents were toiling
and now they need not toil provided they are willing to spend the money. In both the cases, the child in any case never learns.”

How much homework?
‘How much homework should be given to children’ is a perennial topic of discussion among parents. Most schools make it a point to assign tasks to be completed at home.  City Buzz talked to parents and teachers to find out how much homework they think is
justified.

“My son is just seven years old and he does not have the time to play,” complains Deepti Nagaraj. “His school extends up to 3:30 pm. After that, he has to sit with his homework, which invariably makes him restless after an hour or so. The homework session keeps
extending till late evening and then where is the time for recreation?”

Nagaraj’s son, who is in class two, is burdened with almost two hours of homework. Two hours of study after five hours of school does seem too much for a child of that age.

Shruthi Sameer, a mother of two children, offers a totally different perspective when she says, “I feel homework helps me relate to my child in a special way. I set a time schedule for my children. It includes time for sports, music and home study. I make it a point to
oversee their homework. This involves regular discussions about their lessons at school. I am also involved in parent-teacher activities. This allows me to approach the teacher when the homework is too difficult or if my son is having some problems in class.”

“Homework is good, but in small doses,” says S Ravichandran. “My daughter is lucky. Her teachers are on the same wavelength. So usually she manages her homework herself. We help her only if required.”

Most school teachers are of the view that some amount of homework is necessary. If started early, it helps children imbibe the qualities of discipline and regularity. As students progress to higher standards, homework encourages the use of intelligence, as it
helps them apply the lessons they learnt in class and focus on solving new problems.