Formula to end road projects tussle
85 arrested for drunken revelry on Park Street
Crushed under bus wheels
New head prescribes CU fee-hike pill
Few doctors on home turf of health minister
6 drowned in boat capsize
Biswal visits troubled Orissa dist after clash
Parties woo Dalits in north Bihar
Pig heart doctor gets UK patient
Strike paralyses Manipur court

Calcutta, Jan 1 
The state government is working out a formula to put an end to the tussle between the public works department (PWD) and zilla parishads over construction and repair of roads in the districts.

The Cabinet sub-committee on power decentralisation held a high-level meeting at Writers’ Buildings on Saturday morning with deputy chief minister Buddhadev Bhattacharya as chairman.

It was decided that a secretary-level meeting will be held on Monday to thrash out the formula. Secretaries of panchayats, the PWD, finance and the planning and development departments will discuss the problems with chief secretary Manish Gupta.

The search for a formula follows a feud between PWD minister Kshiti Goswami and finance minister Asim Dasgupta over the question of making zilla parishads the sole authority for road construction and repair.

Dasgupta had earlier announced that all road projects would be implemented by the zilla parishads concerned. He also issued an order saying PWD engineers would have to work as subordinates to the zilla parishads as well as district administrations. Besides, zilla parishads were given full authority on inviting tenders, work supervision and payment.

Goswami, who felt threatened by Dasgupta’s move, lost no time in complaining to chief minister Jyoti Basu. He was convinced that Dasgupta was out to curtail his power, as he belongs to the RSP.

The RSP also viewed the move as a CPM attempt to exercise its indirect control over the PWD’s functioning through zilla parishads controlled by the party.

Goswami succeeded in convincing Basu that the Dasgupta policy would not only cripple his department but also create administrative and technical problems.

If Goswami was hurt by Dasgupta’s move, PWD engineers turned hostile and threatened to launch a protest. To pre-empt the situation, Basu asked his deputy to intervene. Accordingly, Bhattacharya gave Goswami a patient hearing on Saturday.

The Dasgupta-Goswami tussle over road repair funds has been on for some time now. Basu had to intervene to ensure that funds were released for roads in north Bengal after the recent floods

The PWD minister later told newspersons that he was happy over the outcome of the meeting. He claimed that the deputy chief minister had appreciated his stand. “The PWD’s work is highly technical, in which zilla parishads have no expertise. Executive engineers working under the PWD are equal in rank to district magistrates. How can they work as subordinates to the DMs?” he asked.

Apart from Bhattacharya, Goswami and Dasgupta, ministers like Suryakanta Misra, Naren De, Nandogopal Bhattacharya and Ashok Bhattacharya were present at the meeting.

Road repair: Goswami later said the government will spend nearly Rs 70 crore for repairing some roads. Work will begin from mid-January. The state has also taken loans from Hudco for the repair of 17 major roads, measuring 750 km.    

Calcutta, Jan 1 
The police had a difficult time on Friday controlling revellers on Park Street and its adjoining areas as thousands of people poured in from different parts of the metropolis to usher in the new millennium.

Deputy commissioner of police, detective department, Narayan Ghosh, said on Saturday that 85 young men were arrested well past midnight on Friday on charges of “disorderly conduct.”

The youth, mostly from upmarket residential areas, were drunk and caught causing a nuisance and teasing women. They were produced in court on Saturday and granted bail.

A senior police officer admitted that some eveteasers managed to evade the law by whizzing away on their motorcycles before the police arrived.

Though elaborate arrangements were made on Park Street to ensure a smooth flow of vehicles, traffic came to a grinding halt in the area for several hours. Many remained stranded till midnight. “There was an unending snarl on Jawaharlal Nehru Road around midnight,” another officer said.

Trinamul 2

The Trinamul Congress on Saturday observed its second anniversary in a low key, in the absence of party leader Mamata Banerjee. The Trinamul Youth Congress held a millennium march from Nadia to Calcutta as part of the celebration. A public meeting was held at the Hazra crossing.    

Calcutta, Jan 1 
A 30-year-old employee of Calcutta Municipal Corporation (CMC) was killed in a road accident near Dhakuria bridge on Saturday morning.

Police said Surendra Prasad, travelling on a private bus on route 218, was killed when he tried to get off the speeding bus. He slipped off the front door footboard and was run over. The driver was arrested and the bus impounded.

Housewife dies of burns

A 24-year-old housewife, Rina Chakraborty, was killed allegedly by her husband at their Tollygunge Road residence on Friday.

Police said Rina was admitted to M.R. Bangur Hospital with severe burns. She succumbed to her injuries. In her dying declaration, Rina told the police her husband had doused her with kerosene and set her on fire. The man is absconding.    

Calcutta, Jan 1 
The new vice-chancellor of Calcutta University plans to raise the tuition fees for post-graduate courses, to which over 100,000 students are enrolled.

Ashish Banerjee, professor of economics who took over from R.N. Basu as the university’s administrative head on Friday, feels this is a viable option that can haul the institution out of its financial quagmire.

The proposal, if made, will be in line with the recent recommendation by Union human resources development minister M.M. Joshi, that all universities in the country must increase fees to meet their own expenses.

Calcutta University authorities had earlier contemplated a revision in fees as it had become very difficult to meet financial requirements through subsidies in the budget.

“Most students who opt for higher education are from upper class families,” Banerjee said. Post-graduate fees are pitifully low in West Bengal’s state-aided universities. Calcutta University itself charges less than Rs 20 a month for most courses. “We can offer free education to those who are unable to pay. But there are many others who can afford to pay more,” Banerjee said.

One of his priorities would be the removal of bias in the recruitment of faculty members, Banerjee said. He was aware of newspaper reports saying there was political interference in the appointment of university teachers and other staff. After the controversial appointment of Surabhi Banerjee as pro vice-chancellor (academic) in 1998, there has been a string of nominations on the campus in which CPM sympathisers were chosen to various prestigious posts.

The most recent has been the appointment of Basudeb Chatterjee as professor to the Sir Ashutosh chair in the history department. A row also rocked the campus a few months ago over the recruitment of CPM faithfuls in the radio physics department.

“I have read about political interference in the recruitment of teachers. Such interference is not desirable, as academic standards suffer. I will have to look into the matter properly,” Banerjee said . “You see, the party’s interference is not unlikely if the candidate for a post is not suitable. There is no harm if the party gives its opinion to the university in some exceptional cases. But I don’t think that any party has ever interfered in each and every appointment of any university. Sometimes the reports are exaggerated,” he added.

However, the vice-chancellor said his immediate priority was to clear the 2,000 incomplete results of the BA (Pass) examination. The results were declared a week ago. He stressed the need to improve the standard of research, especially in the field of science and technology.    

As Calcutta ushered in the new millennium with much festivity and fanfare, a few hundred kilometres away, life remained a grim battle for survival.

In terms basic health requirements, if conditions prevailing in Bankura and adjoining Burdwan district are to be accepted as “standard,” the rural health situation seems beyond redemption. Ironically, the state’s health minister, Partha De, hails from Bankura.

For the ailing, the problem is a lack of doctors and drugs. There are public health centres that have had no doctor for years and are run by compounders and nurses. Others are manned by homoeopathy practitioners or kavirajis.

The public health centre at Gadardihi, about 45 km from Bankura town, is run by a compounder designated as a “pharmacist”. Popularly known as “Tuhin daktar”, he has been at the job since the official doctor’s contract expired in February last year. No replacement has arrived.

Says young Subhas Layek, gram panchayat pradhan: “ I am fed up with the health authorities of the district. I personally approached the health minister on a number of occasions but no steps have been taken yet.”

The pharmacist has to deal with cases ranging from intestinal disorder, coughs, colds and fever, jaundice, asthma, respiratory trouble to leprosy and even worms.

Water is scarce. “Often, we are hard put to wash our hands after examining a patient,” says Gurudas Patra, in charge of Barjora block public health centre. The only submersible pump has been defunct since 1994, he complained.

Pursa block public health centre, about 30 km from Burdwan town, has a peculiar problem. Pursa, the police admit, is a “dacoit-infested village”. In the evenings, doctors and their colleagues chat, play cards or simply sing for each other’s benefit. They do not buy a transistor for fear of it being robbed. They cannot keep their money on themselves and have to go all the way to Bud Bud or Galsi sub-post office to keep it safe.

They have been able to keep the snakes at bay by sprinkling gallons of acid around. But what scares them more are the dacoits. “Darkness brings fear. We have not been able to arrange for a permanent police picket, despite repeated appeals to the district authorities”, said a doctor.

Pursa is not an isolated case. Most of these health centres have no electricity or boundary walls. Doctors and nurses find the one- or two-roomed “quarters” unsafe .    

Calcutta, Jan 1 
Three men and three women were feared drowned on Friday when a boat capsized in the Fulahar river near arishchandrapur, about 30 km from Malda town.

Divers commissioned on Friday failed to locate the bodies till late on Saturday.

The police said the boat, carrying 15 passengers, capsized midstream in a strong wind. The other nine passengers swam to the shore.    

Majhiguda (Gajapati district), Jan. 1 
Orissa chief minister Hemanand Biswal today visited Adaba, 35 km from here, to discuss the situation following an attack on the police picket here on Thursday. Eight persons had died in the clash.

Biswal, however, did not visit Majhiguda, disappointing hundreds of tribals. Ten police platoons have been deployed here following the attack.

Nearly 300 tribals from Mandrabaju village and the adjoining areas in Gajapati district had attacked a police picket here on Thursday. They also torched all the 14 houses of the Pana community inhabiting the hamlet. Gajapati police sources said the police had fired nearly 60 rounds in retaliation.

Union minister Naveen Patnaik and Berhampur MP Anadi Sahu visited the site yesterday. District collector R.B. Nayak, superintendent of police P.S. Ranapise and deputy inspector-general of police, southern range, Biswanath Hota, have also visited the site.

One of the injured tribals, Nudu Majhi, alleged that the police opened fire indiscriminately. Denying that they had attacked the police picket, he claimed that the tribals had gone to Majhiguda to complain about the Panas who were allegedly involved in sundry thefts in the village.

However, police sources at Adaba and Majhiguda said the tribals had ransacked the police picket on Wednesday and attacked the picket and the Pana families at Majhiguda on Thursday morning.

The immediate reason behind the clash was said to be the breaking of toddy pots at Mandrabaju village, with the tribals alleging the involvement of policemen.

Another reason could be the long-standing dispute between the Pana community at Majhiguda and the tribals of Mandrabaju over 14 acres of fertile land.

Sahu alleged the crisis was the outcome of the registration of the land in the name of the Panas by settlement officials in 1973 in exchange of Rs 3,000. He said the administration had remained apathetic to the tribals’ complaints ever since.

Ganga Majhi and Basuki Polaka, Panas of the Majhiguda hamlet, said they had bought the disputed land in 1975. But tribals of Mandrabaju claimed that the land was theirs.

They said official records till 1988 showed that the 14 acres of land was in the name of the tribals of Mandrabaju.

Pana families fled to Adaba following the arson. Sahu has alleged that they have not been provided with any relief.

Sahu has demanded an ex gratia of Rs 1 lakh for the kin of the dead and Rs 50,000 for the injured.    

Patna, Jan. 1 
North Bihar is witnessing new caste alignments with national-level parties going out of their way to woo the Dalits and Other Backward Classes (OBC) voters.

The region, which till recently was an RJD stronghold, has become a battleground for backward caste leaders after Laloo Prasad Yadav’s debacle in the September Lok Sabha polls.

Gopalganj, the RJD chief’s home district, is now a hotbed of dissent with several Laloo Yadav loyalists deserting the party.

With the RJD dissidents terming the social justice campaign of their own party a “farce,” the CPI(M-L) Liberation, the CPI and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) have stepped up campaign to drum up support of the Dalits and backward classes.

Recently, a Harijan woman was assaulted, stripped and paraded naked at Dhaman Khem village under Meergunge police station on December 28. The incident has become a rallying point for the parties, which are cashing in on the simmering resentment.

The common refrain is, “If a Harijan woman in the ruling party president’s home district can be humiliated in public, then imagine the condition of backward caste women in the rest of the state.’’

Enthused by the rise in share of the party’s vote in Goplaganj, BSP supremo Kanshi Ram mounted an anti-Laloo tirade at a rally in the latter’s home turf yesterday.

He said, “State politics was still controlled by minority groups at the expense of Bahujan Samaj Party.” Kanshi Ram demanded 50 per cent reservation for the Extremely Backward Caste (EBC) groups, which account for at least 30 per cent of the electorate.

“The state will continue to serve Manuvadis till Bahujan Samaj members are installed at various levels of administration,” Kanshi Ram thundered.

The BSP, which won two seats in the 1995 polls from Sasaram district, now plans to consolidate base in neighbouring Gopalganj.

The Janata Dal (United) and BJP combine, which swept north Bihar in the last parliamentary polls, has promised the Dalits and the OBCs a reservation package envisaged in the Karpoori Thakur formula.

During his tenure as the chief minister of Bihar in the Seventies, Thakur had announced 12 per cent reservation for the Extremely Backward Caste groups and 8 per cent for the OBCs.

The Janata Dal(U)-BJP combine has also promised 33 per cent reservation in the legislative bodies of the state government for the Extremely Backward Caste and OBC groups.

The combine has launched a campaign in 1,577 villages represented in six Assembly seats.

The Surajpuri Muslims, who were deprived of extremely backward status by Laloo Prasad Yadav, has become a handy campaign tool. The combine is also making friendly overtures to the Pasamda Muslims, another minority group.    

Guwahati, Jan. 1 
“Controversial” pig heart surgeon Dhaniram Baruah will transplant a pig’s heart on a 29-year-old English patient, Lynne Lewis.

Addressing reporters at his residence yesterday, Baruah said his British patient would soon fly to the country for xenotransplantation. “During my recent visit to Britain, I examined her thoroughly. She said she would not have any problem accepting a pig’s heart,’’ Baruah claimed.

He said the 29-year-old Lewis from Broxburn had a congenital heart disease that required immediate “transplant.’’

The cardiac surgeon had shaken the medical world by “transplanting” a pig’s heart on a 32-year-old patient on January 1, 1997. The patient, however, died a week later. Subsequently all his xenotransplantation efforts fell through.

The cardiac surgeon has also moved the National Human Rights Commission demanding a compensation of over Rs 5,000 crore from the state government for the inconvenience caused to him during his jail term. Baruah was arrested with two of his associates on January 10, 1997 for violating the Transplantation of Human Organs Act, 1995.

In a bid to lend credibility to his claims, Baruah said South Africa-based surgeon Christian Bernard will fly to the city to visit his institute. “I met him (Bernard) in London recently and he has agreed to come to Guwahati,” Baruah claimed. Another cardiac surgeon from Britain Alain Fachney has also “accepted my technology,” he said.

But in what appears to be the “tallest of claims,’’ Baruah said a US-based agency had approached him recently with a proposal to “buy” his techniques for $26 billion.    

Imphal, Jan. 1 
The Imphal bench of the Gauhati High Court has been paralysed since yesterday following a strike by the lawyers of the High Court Bar Association, Manipur.

The lawyers have launched an indefinite ceasework demanding the appointment of five interim sitting judges to the Imphal bench.

An emergency meeting of the High Court Bar Association, Manipur decided to continue the strike till the demands are met. The association has also demanded a separate High Court for Manipur and elevation of qualified lawyers from the state to the vacant judges’ posts.

The association has submitted its demands to the Chief Justice of the Gauhati High Court, the Union law ministry and the Manipur government. The Northeast region has only one High Court at Gauhati though a permanent bench has been set up at each of Imphal, Kohima, Aizawl, Shillong, Itanagar and Agartala.

Rebel leader: The chairman of the banned Kanglei Yawol Kanna Lup (Oken group), Namoijam Oken, who was released on parole, has failed to turn up at Imphal central jail. The militant leader was scheduled to report to the authorities on Thursday on the expiry of his parole term.

Officials of the state home department went into a tizzy after Oken did not report. His release on parole had become a major problem for the state government as the Union home ministry had expressed displeasure over it.    


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