Midnight’s orphans long for motherland
Grain splits, plane binds Basu & Atal
BJP cheers Manmohan ‘support’
MPs come to blows on job quota cap
MP above judge in IA seat shuffle
Bill returns warmth with visa thrust
Alarm at China frontline road

 
 
MIDNIGHT’S ORPHANS LONG FOR MOTHERLAND 
 
 
FROM DEBASHIS BHATTACHARYYA
 
Seraikela (Bihar), May 16 
They are longing to “go home” to Orissa, to return to their “motherland”.

Thousands of Oriyas living in the once-princely states of Seraikela and Kharswan, now in Bihar’s West Singhbhum district, see the long-hoped-for “remerger” on the horizon, after the Naveen Patnaik government asked the Centre to return them to Orissa.

“This is our last chance to merge with Orissa and right a historical wrong,” said Rajkumar Pratapaditya Singh Deo of the Seraikela royal family. Singh Deo’s grandfather had signed the merger with Bihar in 1948 on the order of the Jawaharlal Nehru government. “We may be here in the flesh, but our heart is in Orissa,” he said.

Seraikela and Kharswan were among the 26 princely states which merged with Orissa on a linguistic basis at the time of Independence at Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel’s insistence. But soon after, tribals in the two states, claiming majority, launched an agitation demanding that they be handed over to Bihar as they were part of Singhbhum district.

When the agitation turned violent, Patel called the Orissa and Bihar governments to Delhi for discussion. After hearing both sides, he handed over Seraikela and Kharswan to Bihar on May 18, 1948, calling them “two islands in Singhbhum district” that borders Mayurbhanj and Keonjhar districts of Orissa.

Ever since, the thousands of Oriyas who felt “betrayed” by the Orissa government, clung to their language and culture against heavy odds, turning the present-day Seraikela sub-division into an Oriya enclave.

“We may have been forced to live in Bihar, but we remain Oriyas at heart. We speak Oriya, eat Oriya dishes at home, send our sons to colleges in Bhubaneswar, Cuttack or Sambalpur and marry off our daughters to Oriya boys from Orissa,” said Gourishankar Satpathy, a 65-year-old lawyer at the Seraikela court.

Most of the lawyers at the court are Oriyas, and most want Seraikela carved out of Bihar and merged with Orissa.

“The time is ripe as Vananchal is being carved out of Bihar. If you are giving back the adivasis their land, why not return our land to us,” said advocate Prafulla Kumar Das. “We have a right cause and a right case.”

The ties to Orissa are all too visible. A sign in Oriya announces Banamali Hotel at the centre of the town, so does another proclaiming Seraikela municipality where, according to assistant clerk Kashinath Kar, all holding receipts are till now printed only in Oriya and English.

So that they don’t forget their roots, many families here subscribe to Oriya newspapers, even though they reach two days late. In fact, Oriyas represented Seraikela in the Bihar Assembly till 1977, when it was turned into a reserved seat for Scheduled Tribes by reorganising the constituency. The chairmen of the local municipality were also from the community for much of the past five decades.

The bond runs deep. “Returning to Orissa may not get us much because Seraikela would then be just another border district neglected by Bhubaneswar,” said Das. “But we still want to return to our motherland, no matter how poor she is or what she will do to us.”

By refusing to assimilate into Bihari society, Oriyas here say they have paid a heavy price. According to Biswanath Kar, leader of the Kharswan-based Utkal Sammilani, Seraikela and Kharswan were among the least developed areas in undivided Singhbhum district, with bone-breaking roads and erratic electricity and telephone connections.

“There was no electricity in Seraikela for three days early this week and officials would not hear our complaints. Oriya-medium schools are closing down for lack of teachers, while Hindi-medium schools are being encouraged. Our language and culture are facing a grave threat because of the government’s step-motherly attitude,” he said.

The district authorities, however, denied that Oriyas were being discriminated against. “The Bihar government has never discriminated against any linguistic minority community. Oriya-medium schools have as many or as few teachers as Hindi-medium schools,” said West Singhbhum district-collector Brajesh Mehrotra. “The conditions of roads or, for that matter, power supply are the same in Seraikela as elsewhere.”

It was Satpathy who tried to put things in perspective. Oriyas in Seraikela, he said, were living in a twilight zone. “We are neither here, nor there. In Bihar, we are suspect because we are trying to break out of the state. Back in Orissa, we have largely been forgotten by the people who see us as Biharis.”

Satpathy said the Orissa government had, over the years, withdrawn all the facilities it had provided to students from Seraikela following the merger with Bihar. “Our children could earlier enter the medical and engineering colleges in Orissa easily, but no longer.”

But the remerger claim has brought hope to the residents who believe it could open up a whole world of opportunities. “Our children will get more jobs once the Orissa government retakes the areas and opens its offices and more Oriya-medium schools here,” they said.    


 
 
GRAIN SPLITS, PLANE BINDS BASU & ATAL 
 
 
FROM DIPTOSH MAJUMDAR
 
New Delhi, May 16 
Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee today could not but help remind West Bengal chief minister Jyoti Basu that the BJP government had only taken a leaf out of the Left Front’s book by doubling ration allotment for poor families before increasing foodgrain prices for all income groups.

Basu had met Vajpayee to discuss a package of issues, including British Airways’ decision to terminate flights to Calcutta and the Left demand that prices of goods sold through the public distribution system be scaled down.

On the subsidy issue, the Prime Minister argued that it was the Left Front which had started the practice of differentiating between below-poverty-line and above-poverty-line families and set the dual-pricing policy.

Had that not happened, the rates for the higher income bracket would not have surged so high after the removal of subsidies.

Bengal, which has a large middle-class population, appears to have been hit hard by the recent increase in public distribution prices. Unlike most other states, above-poverty-line consumers in Bengal do not always buy essentials from the open market.

Basu argued that Vajpayee was obfuscating the issue and stuck to the Left’s demand that the prices for both the income groups should be rolled back.

However, the Prime Minister, who has manipulated his allies into submission on the price increase, held his ground.

Vajpayee said he understood the difficulties but regretted that his hands were tied because of economic compulsions. But the Prime Minister, who holds Basu in high esteem, gave the chief minister a patient hearing.

On the British Airways issue, Vajoayee was more sympathetic. He agreed that a collective effort needed to be made to prevent the airline from bypassing Calcutta.

Vajpayee told Basu that he had information that the airline probably wanted to discontinue its flight to Dhaka and that could be why Calcutta was also being dropped.

Basu, supported by his finance minister Asim Dasgupta, argued that Calcutta could not be given the go-by on such a ground. Vajpayee assured Basu that he would have a discussion on the issue with the civil aviation minister and find out what could be done.

At this point, Planning commission deputy chairman K.C. Pant interjected. He wondered if the fall in passenger traffic had contributed in any way to the British Airways’ decision to leave Calcutta.

Dasgupta then rattled off figures to suggest that traffic was increasing at a steady clip. Dasgupta pointed out that a lot of money had been spent by the Union government to renovate and refurbish the Calcutta airport and bring it to international standards.    


 
 
BJP CHEERS MANMOHAN ‘SUPPORT’ 
 
 
FROM KAY BENEDICT
 
New Delhi, May 16 
In a bid to drive a wedge between Sonia Gandhi and Manmohan Singh, the BJP today went out of its way to hail Singh, the architect of the first round of reforms, for “supporting” the Vajpayee government’s economic policies.

The BJP could not have got a more opportune moment to embarrass the Congress. While Singh, Opposition leader in the Rajya Sabha, spoke in the Upper House in favour of the subsidies cut, the Congress chief was leading a march to Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee’s residence against the cuts and price hike.

Lambasting the Congress for “doublespeak”, BJP spokesperson M. Venkaiah Naidu said: “I hope the Congress president, who submitted a memorandum (demanding rollback) to the Prime Minister, has read Manmohan Singh’s speech.” He added: “They will keep agitating, we will keep educating” (the masses on the logic behind the government decisions). Naidu said Sonia was resorting to agitational politics as the Congress had failed in Parliament.

Even as the BJP tried to expose the “schism” and “confusion” in the Congress on economic policies, the Prime Minister exhorted BJP MPs to go back to their constituencies and “educate” the people about the achievements of his government and “neutralise the Congress propaganda”.

Addressing the BJP Parliamentary Party meeting here today, Vajpayee said: “Populism was not a substitute to economic planning.”

Taking a dig at the Congress, he said some people wanted to raise the issues which appeared populist, but lacked sound economic rationale. “The Congress argument in this regard is loud but hollow,” Vajpayee said.

Referring to Sonia’s meeting with him with a memorandum demanding rollback, Vajpayee said: “The memo was a mere repetition of Congress slogans. Slogans cannot fight the reality of the economic situation,” he said, adding that a “bold and sound” budget was presented in this session, laying out the vision for the future.

The BJP said it “welcomed the speech of Manmohan Singh in the Rajya Sabha and hopes that it is in tune with the Congress party’s policy”.    


 
 
MPS COME TO BLOWS ON JOB QUOTA CAP 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, May 16 
Parliament today approved the 90th Constitution amendment Bill, seeking to end the 50 per cent ceiling on reservation for scheduled castes and tribes and other backward castes in backlog vacancies, with the Rajya Sabha passing it unanimously without debate. The House was earlier adjourned for half an hour following clashes between ADMK and DMK members after the Bill was taken up for consideration.

The members came to near blows and several MPs, especially Dipankar Mukherjee (CPM) and Sanjay Nirupam (Shiv Sena) rushed to the seats of the quarrelling members and separated them.

What they were shouting about the reservation issue could not be heard in the din.

Deputy chairperson Najma Heptullah expunged allegations made by R. Margabandhu (ADMK) after vehement objection by DMK member Viduthalai Virumbi.

Heptullah, whose appeals for calm went unheeded, finally told the members that if they wanted to argue on Tamil Nadu politics they could go out as the House was discussing an important Bill.

When exchanges between ADMK members, including Thalavai Sundaram and Margabandhu, and DMK members Virumbi and V.P. Duraisamy continued, the deputy chairperson adjourned the House for half an hour.    


 
 
MP ABOVE JUDGE IN IA SEAT SHUFFLE 
 
 
FROM OUR LEGAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, May 16 
A public interest litigation today brought to light in Delhi High Court how the court’s Chief Justice Arijit Passayat was humiliated by the “misbehaviour” of the Indian Airlines staff.

Narrating his experience with the airline during the hearings, Justice Passayat said: “On May 8, I was asked by an airhostess to go to the back row seat to accommodate an MP, who wanted to sit in the front seat of the A-Class.” Justice Passayat was holding an A-Class ticket.

The court took a serious view of Indian Airlines giving special treatment to politicians at the expense of other passengers and even “humiliating” judges to accommodate MPs and MLAs.

“This is very serious. You cannot ask me to suffer and travel,” the judges observed during the hearings of the litigation, argued by advocate Rajiv Bansal.

“If this is the attitude of Indian Airlines, then who would like to travel by it? They have little respect even for judges,” Justice D.K. Jain, the other judge on the division bench, observed.

The litigation challenges the government decision that prohibits high court judges from travelling in private airlines. It also contends that airport lounges outside metropolitan cities are “too small” to accommodate passengers of a delayed flight.

The judges asked the government to file its reply by May 22, the next date for hearing.

Very “humiliatingly”, Justice Passayat said, “the airhostess came to me and asked me to vacate the seat in the front row for an MP. She asked me to go to the back row as the MP wanted to sit in the executive class.”

Government counsel H.S. Phoolka agreed with the observations and said the matter was “serious” and the court should even take suo motu action against the airlines’ officials concerned for “misbehaviour”.

But Justice Passayat said he was citing the incident as an example “only” to point out the “kind of service” Indian Airlines provided.

“Do you still expect people to travel by Indian Airlines?” the judges asked the government counsel. “It is a common occurrence nowadays that a flight scheduled to leave at five in the morning leaves at five in the evening. The guidelines are never followed by the Indian Airlines authorities,” the bench observed.    


 
 
BILL RETURNS WARMTH WITH VISA THRUST 
 
 
FROM K.P. NAYAR
 
Washington, May 16 
The first fruits of President Bill Clinton’s visit to Hyderabad and Mumbai are beginning to go India’s way.

Impressed by what the President saw in Mumbai and in the Deccan city, popularly known here as Cyberabad, the Clinton administration has asked Congress to increase H-1B visas for foreign workers. The increase, if approved by Congress, could raise the intake of high technology Indian specialists, working in the information technology sector, by a whopping 50,000 to one lakh a year for the next three years.

The administration’s request is a slap on the face of those who have been campaigning against the influx of information technology workers from India, in particular, to the US immigration and naturalisation service (INS), which earlier this year arrested and handcuffed scores of these workers for innocuous infringements of immigration rules.

“The caps have already been hit and there is clearly a greater demand than there is availability,” Gene Sperling, the chief of the White House National Economic Council, said in a communication to the US Congress asking for an increase in the current ceiling on H-1B visas.

At present, the US issues 115,000 visas a year under this category for skilled foreign workers. Half of this number comes from India, but if the ceiling is raised, the intake of Indians is likely to go up substantially. This is because the US President’s visit to India has raised the profile of Indian computer industry and its personnel here. Besides, the American-Indian computer industry has become a very organised lobby here in recent years.

Sperling’s request to Congress is in response to pressure from high technology industries which are complaining of a severe shortage of trained workers.

But opposition to such increase is expected from labour unions which want US workers to be trained instead of importing aliens.

To counter such opposition, the White House has suggested that there should be a four to six-fold increase in the fee to be paid to the government by companies hiring workers from overseas. At present employers pay $500 to the state for each overseas worker brought into this country. With the increase in visas, companies will pay $2,000 for every alien hired.

If the number of foreign workers in a company goes beyond 15 per cent of its staff, the payment will rise further — to $3,000 per alien.

The White House proposal also stipulates that by 2003, at least half of those employed on H-1B visas should have masters degrees in their areas of specialisation.    


 
 
ALARM AT CHINA FRONTLINE ROAD 
 
 
FROM CHANDAN NANDY
 
New Delhi, May 16 
The Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) was busy building an unmetalled road track heading towards the Line of Actual Control (LAC) across Arunachal Pradesh last month even as the joint working group was trying to thrash out solutions to the lingering border dispute.

A note from the Arunachal government to the army headquarters on April 17 said Chinese personnel had been spotted laying the track opposite Asaphila area in the Tawang district.

Prior to this, security agencies had reported explosions, suggesting roadheads were being opened up by blasting rocks.

Government sources said army units stationed in the area began collecting intelligence and were “quite astounded” to find that the unmetalled track was barely six to seven km from the LAC where Indian troops are holding positions. The road runs along the Yune Chu river across the LAC and, according to army intelligence reports, is between eight to 10 feet wide.

Army headquarters also got in touch with Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) so that sorties of the Aviation Research Centre could be flown to carry out air surveillance.

Sources said the RAW reports have confirmed the army’s worst fears. Army headquarters has now asked the foreign ministry to lodge a protest with Beijing and point out that the laying of the track so close to the LAC violates Article VII of the Agreement on Confidence Building Measures.

Intelligence reports indicate that construction work has approached a place called the Yune Chu-Tadang Siko junction, and to make the track road operational, the Chinese army now has to only build a bridge over the river at Tadang Siko which, sources said, “will not be very difficult for the PLA to construct”, especially since they are operating within their own territory.

“However, the situation could become alarming once the Chinese get close to the LAC,” the sources added.

In the mid-Eighties, the PLA had occupied the Sum-Durong Chu yak-grazing pastures in Tawang and continues to hold the territory which both China and India claim as theirs.

The road work across the LAC opposite Arunachal Pradesh is not an isolated incident. Over the past two years, there has been an increase in construction activity in Chinese-held territory close to the LAC. A network of metalled roads and mule tracks has been laid by the PLA for bringing in military and communication hardware and rations.

Indian army officials read ominous signs in the hectic activity and regular supplies to the Chinese posts all along the LAC.

Even in the western sector, in Ladakh’s disputed Aksai Chin area, the PLA has intruded into Indian territory and built a network of metalled roads and bunkers within a 25 sq km area just behind a strategic point called ‘K’ Hill northeast of Trijunction near the Chip Chap river.

The Telegraph had reported on February 1 that these roads from the LAC lead up to grid references 5459 and 5495 within which the piece of land had been “occupied”. The roads were built between June and August 1999, at the height of the Kargil war.

Besides this, there were 75 instances of PLA personnel intruding into Indian territory for long durations last year. This year, there have been at least 15 such cases.    

 

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