PIL filed for rally ban on weekdays
Salary hike for elite-school teachers
Sudden rain sends city scurrying
Tripura bedlam over SDO death
Tripura Church denies links with rebels
Naxalite attacks mar elections in Orissa
Phulbani keeps parties guessing
Maithili upsurge against janbhasa

Calcutta, Feb 17 
Giving voice to the anguish of thousands of commuters regularly stuck in traffic jams in central Calcutta, a lawyer on Thursday moved the high court praying for an end to what he described as “the rally raj”.

Filing a petition against the administration and political parties, Supradip Roy sought a ban on rallies and meetings on the streets and in parks on weekdays.

Roy urged the court to direct chief minister Jyoti Basu to enact a legislation in consultation with all political parties to prevent disruption of normal life by political rallies and meetings in Chowringhee, C.R. Avenue, B.B.D. Bag and College Street.

He argued that Calcutta’s business district, especially Esplanade, be designated “public utility area” and be made off-limits to political parties wanting to hold rallies and meetings on workdays.

The 15-page petition, marking the first-ever public interest litigation (PIL) in this regard, turned out to be a damning critcism of the state administration as well as all mainline political parties including the CPM, Congress, Trinamul Congress and BJP.

“Political parties, causing large-scale public suffering by holding rallies and meetings on weekdays in Esplanade and other busy areas should be dealt with under the terms enshrined in the Constitution,” Roy said.

The petition provides a vivid account of how a spate of rallies, sit-ins, processions and agitations, sponsored by the CPM, Congress, Trinamul and BJP, in the Esplanade area have crippled city life on weekdays, causing severe inconvenience to office-goers, school children and the general public at large.

Roy’s argued that political rallies and meetings be confined to the Brigade Parade grounds on Sundays. In the event of any violation of the directive, the party concerned should be liable for compensation to the affected citizens.

“The state cannot shirk its responsibility. If a citizen suffers losses on account of an illegal rally, the law-violating party and its supporters must help him recoup his losses.”

“Only the court (can) prevent the trampling of the people’s rights to education, medical treatment, travel and pursuit of economic goals by the political parties which cite their rights to hold rallies and meetings to severely restrict citizens’ mobility... The administration and the parties are clearly violating Article 19 (1) ‘a’ and ‘b’ and Article 21 of the Constitution,” the petition said.

The petitioner also pointed out that the police have admitted they are powerless to stop processions, though no political party follows the rule of seeking their permission a week before the rally.

Roy had earlier filed three PILs — seeking a ban on bandhs, demanding a CBI inquiry into the baby-swap case at Calcutta Medical College and Hospital, and issuing of answerscript photocopies to Higher Secondary and Madhyamik examinees.    

Calcutta, Feb 17 
Teachers of nearly 70 English-medium schools such as La Martiniere, St James’, Loreto, St Thomas, Don Bosco and Pratt Memorial are set to get a raise after the West Bengal government on Thursday directed the school managements to bring salaries in line with the recommendations of the Fourth Pay Commission.

The minimum raise in monthly salary teachers can expect after new scales are introduced is Rs 3,000. The maximum is Rs 5,000. Nearly 60,000 students attend these schools. It is likely that the managements will raise the monthly tuition fees to partly offset the financial burden of a new salary structure.

The government has also told the school boards that the upward revision of teachers’ salaries should not be delayed. The state government’s warning cannot taken lightly because it funds a major part of the wage bill of these schools. “We cannot allow the teachers to be deprived of their dues,” said school education minister Kanti Biswas. “After all, they are earning substantial revenue by way of high tuition and other fees from pupils, in addition to the financial assistance worth Rs 30 crore they receive from us every year for payment of salaries to teachers and employees.”

In some of these schools, teachers have been boycotting salaries in protest against the non-acceptance of their pay-hike demand.

Thursday’s directive was issued after complaints from more than 3,000 teachers who are aggrieved that they earn less than their counterparts in state-aided institutions for a job they probably do better. The teachers added that the government had already disbursed its share of the salary hike funds but the benefit had not reached them.

At the same time, the school communities, comprising staff, students and parents, do not want a situation that might bring the schools to disrepute. Many of the schools are known for academic and all-round excellence.

Heads of such institutions, however, pointed out that the sharp rise in salaries after the Fourth Pay Commission recommendations has put them in a dilemma.

“We are trying to chalk out a balanced strategy to make sure that the parents are not made to bear an unexpected financial burden,” said the principal of one school who did not want to be identified.

Dilip Bhattacharya, general secretary, Association of Teachers in Anglo-Indian Schools, demanded that the enhanced pay-scales be implemented with immediate effect.    

Calcutta, Feb 17 
A heavy downpour on Thursday evening caught the home-bound off guard and dislocated traffic in some parts of the city. The Alipore met office registered 39.1 mm of rainfall till 8.30 pm. It forecast more clouds and rain for Friday.

It was cloudy since 3 pm. At Eden Gardens, the umpires called off the Ranji match between Bengal and Delhi because of bad light. The overcast sky opened up around 6 pm, sending a large number of unprepared commuters scurrying for cover.

The fairly heavy rainfall, interspersed by lightning and thunder, caused partial waterlogging on important roads. Water accumulated in stretches of Southern Avenue, Theatre Road, Free School Street and Central Avenue.

But traffic jams on APC Roy Road, AJC Bose Road, Moulali, Amherst Street, Tollygunge Circular Road and Kidderpore were caused more by traffic policemen who, too, had taken shelter during the cloudburst.

The rain-bearing clouds developed in the afternoon as a result of a trough of low pressure which had its origin in the Telengana region of Andhra Pradesh, weather officials said. The trough extended over south-east Madhya Pradesh, north Orissa and Gangetic West Bengal. “This attracted a moisture incursion from the Bay of Bengal, resulting in the rainfall.” The lightning and thunder was a local development, the weathermen added.    

Agartala, Feb. 17 
The Tripura House had to be adjourned several times today when the Opposition disrupted proceedings over the death of subdivisional officer Sukhram Debbarma.

Speaker Jiten Sarkar adjourned the House seven times in the face of determined slogan shouting by Congress and Tripura Upajati Juba Samity members demanding a CBI inquiry into the death of the SDO (Sadar sub-division). Debbarma was shot by unidentified men in front of his office on February 5. He died in Calcutta yesterday after undergoing a major surgery.

After Debbarma’s death was announced in the Assembly yesterday, Congress MLA Sudip Roy Barman and TUJS general secretary Rabindra Debbarma alleged that Debbarma had been murdered in a “pre-planned manner” by the ruling party.

Trouble began today when leader of the Opposition Jawahar Saha brought an adjournment motion demanding a CBI inquiry into the death. Saha was joined by Congress legislators Ratanlal Nath, Sudip Roy Barman and TUJS members led by Rabindra Debbarma and Shyama Charan Tripura.

The Opposition members invaded the Well of the House and started shouting slogans leading to the adjournment. The deadlock continued as the Opposition stuck to its demand for a CBI inquiry. The House was adjourned three more times after Congress MLA Sudip Roy Barman tried to snatch the Speaker’s mace. He was pulled back in time by the House staff.

The Opposition did not relent even during the second half of the session. Chief minister Manik Sarkar and finance minister Badal Chowdhury intervened on several occasions saying the government had ordered a CID inquiry into the case and a discussion on a CBI probe could be taken only after the outcome of CID investigation.

The Opposition, however, remained adamant and after three more adjournments, the day’s session was finally over.

Speaking to newsmen after the session, Jawahar Saha and Rabindra Debbarma said police did not even record Sukhram Debbarma’s statement though he was in G.B. Hospital in Agartala for eight days after the shootout.

Accusing the CPM of masterminding the killing, they said the CID inquiry ordered by the government was an eye-wash. The leaders said they would paralyse tomorrow’s proceedings also.

Killing condemned

The Tripura Civil Service Officers Association has strongly condemned the death of Debbarma saying he died because of “medical negligence”. Debbarma was a vice-president of the association.

The association also condemned the poor security cover a the SDO’s office complex and demanded a judicial inquiry into the circumstances leading to Debbarma’s death. All members of Tripura Civil Service and IAS officers association today received Debbarma’s body at Agartala airport and attended his funeral. Debbarma was cremated today.    

Agartala, Feb. 17 
The Catholic church of Tripura has denied having links with tribal militant outfits in the state. It described all acts of violence as “heinous and deeply degrading”.

Bishop of Agartala Diocese Rev. Lumen Monteirs said, “The Catholic church condemns violence in all forms. We are actively involved in praying for peace, for a change of heart of those who resort to such violent activities.”

Asserting the church’s total commitment to the development of the state, irrespective of caste, creed or religion, Bishop Monteirs described the allegations against the church as baseless.

Bishop Monteirs condemned the abduction of four RSS pracharaks in August last year. He said, “We support all those who work for the uplift of the poor. The Catholic church is respectful to all religions.”

Mizo Church

The Mizoram Presbyterian Church Synod has welcomed the Union home ministry’s reported move to monitor the inflow of foreign funds into the different churches and other religious organisations, reports our Silchar correspondent.

Church moderator Rev. K. Lungmuana today denied charges that voluntary donations to churches from overseas donors were being used for conversions.

Corruption probe: The Centre will send high-level inspection teams to south Assam districts to probe allegations of bungling in utilisation of central funds.

An official source here said while a probe team from the Prime Minister’s office and the Union home ministry would visit the different district rural development agency offices in the state early next month, Union home ministry officials would fly to the state to assess the implementation of schemes earmarked under the MPs constituency development fund. The probe was ordered following allegations of corruption in District Rural Development Agency offices by the Assam PCC.    

Bhubaneswar, Feb. 17 
Barring two attacks by suspected Naxalites in the border district of Malkangiri, the Assembly elections passed off peacefully in western and southern Orissa today.

Nearly 60 per cent voters cast their ballots in 70 of the 147 constituencies that went to the polls in the first phase today. Polling for other 77 seats will be held on February 22.

Armed with arrows and bows, some people, reportedly belonging to the People’s War Group, raided two booths in Venkatpalam village in Malkangiri constituency bordering Andhra Pradesh, according to information reaching the state headquarters. They took away the ballot boxes but did not attack any polling personnel or voters standing in the queue.

The Naxalites had called a poll boycott in some parts of Koraput and Malkangiri district to protest lack of development. The repolling for the two Malkangiri booths will be held on Saturday.

In another attack, Naxalites burned down a truck carrying polling personnel near Kalimela in Malkangiri district. Polling personnel returning to the district headquarters were asked to get off the vehicle, before it was torched.

Rain marred polling in parts of Kalahandi, Bolangir and Phulbani districts this morning. The percentage improved in the afternoon after the rain held up. Chief minister Hemanand Biswal, seeking re-election from Laikera, was among the candidates in the first phase of polling in the state.    

Berhampur, Feb. 17 
The BJP and the Biju Janata Dal have campaigned hard in the seven Assembly segments under the Phulbani parliamentary constituency of south Orissa which went to the polls today.

The BJP-BJD alliance has focused on development started by Biju Patnaik in the region.

The seven Assembly segments have a sizeable number of tribal and Scheduled Caste voters. Although the Congress still has a good base in Phulbani, it is fighting with its back to the wall.

The BJP-BJD alliance is trying to cash in on the victory of the BJD candidate in the last parliamentary polls in Phulbani.

Phulbani MP Padmanav Behera, who led the alliance’s campaign in the area, said it has made the Kiakata bridge a major issue. The bridge, which was started by Biju Patnaik during his chief ministership, is yet to be completed as the Congress government in the state has not shown any interest in it. If the Kiakata bridge is completed, southern and western Orissa will get directly connected.

Besides, Behera has a personal interest in the elections: his wife, Bishnupriya Behera, is the BJD candidate from Phulbani. She is facing sitting Congress MLA Abhimanyu Behera.

But all eyes are on former MP Nakul Nayak, who is contesting on a Bahujan Samaj Party ticket. BSP president Kanshi Ram had come here to campaign for Nayak.

In the G. Udaygiri Assembly segment, Congress candidate Nagarjun Pradhan is seeking re-election from the seat for the fifth time in a row. The alliance has put up Saluka Pradhan of the BJD against him.

The contest in the Baliguda Assembly segment has taken an interesting turn. Congress candidate Sahura Malik and BJP candidate Suerandra Kanhar are “related” as their children have tied the knot. Rebel candidates alleged that the two in-laws have a covert deal. Raj Kishore Mallik, who was an aspirant to the Congress ticket for Baliguda, is contesting as an Independent. So is BJD leader Bhagaban Majhar after he was denied a party ticket.

In the Sonepur seat, sitting BJD legislator Kunduru Kosala is facing a tough fight from Congress candidate Achutananda Biswal. The Janata Dal (Secular) has further complicated matters.    

Darbhanga, Feb. 17 
Language is the bone of contention in this part of Mithilanchal. Electoral politics revolves round the conflicting linguistic ethos and its consequent social polarisation.

Three linguistic identities — Maithili, Maghi and Bhojpuri — which coexisted harmoniously in the land of Lord Buddha are now vying for supremacy.

The region always harboured a superiority complex because of its elitist culture and literary heritage which flourished under the patronage of the Maharajas of Darbhanga.

“Since time immemorial we have been a common territory separated by language,” said Kamalakant Jha, president of the Mithila Sanskritik Parishad at a convention here recently.

But over the past 10 years of RJD rule, party chief Laloo Prasad Yadav displayed a curious apathy to the cause of Mithilanchal. Yadav, who has been an ardent champion of the Bhojpuri language, meted out step-motherly treatment to the Maithilis. As the result, the linguistic group went on the offensive alleging bias.

In an election rally last week, state tourism minister Ashok Singh said Laloo Yadav had “internationalised the Bhojpuri language and promoted its growth.’’ His statements, meant to woo Bhojpuri voters, reflected the general sentiments of the north Bihar districts.

This time, the Maithilis have found a new champion in former cricketer and local BJP MP Kirti Azad. “Maithili language today is treated as obsolete. But it is a means of expression and the language has transcended caste and religious barriers. Even the Muslims speak this language,” Azad said, vowing to lobby at the Centre for the inclusion of Maithili in the Eighth Schedule.

Political observers say the issue has struck a chord among voters. “In almost all the meetings, there is a demand for the inclusion of the language as a subject for Bihar Public Service Commission examinations,’’ said Nithish Mishra, a Bihar Jan Congress candidate from Jhanjharpur. Mishra is the son of former chief minister Jagannath Mishra, who symbolised the Maithili upsurge in Bihar politics in the mid-Eighties.

The outcry against the neglect of Maithili became strident after Laloo Yadav denied a ticket to Rupnarayan Jha, Rabri Devi’s rajbhasa mantri (minister in charge of royal language). Despite the brouhaha over language, parties have fielded backward candidates in at least 20 Assembly seats ignoring the Brahmin candidates, who are diehard champions of the Maithili cause.

The NDA has conceded three seats to Brahmin candidates and the Congress 10.

There is only one bridge over the Ganga connecting Darbhanga with to the rest of north Bihar. While the rajbhasa flourishes on the Darbhanga side, the janbhasa, Bhojpuri, rules the other side.

“If Uttar Pradesh can have so many bridges over the Ganga, there should be some more in Bihar to bridge the cultural and linguistic gap,’’ said Animesh Thakur, an English literature student of Darbhanga college.    


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