Government goes along with Narayanan
Mudslide mayhem in Mumbai
German town to host jumbo race
4-year-old married to dog

 
 
GOVERNMENT GOES ALONG WITH NARAYANAN 
 
 
FROM DIPTOSH MAJUMDAR
 
New Delhi, July 13 
President K.R. Narayanan today had his way in setting up a committee of Governors to look into “the serious lacunae in the implementation of programmes for the welfare of scheduled castes and scheduled tribes as also the inadequate utilisation of funds allocated for the purpose’’.

The composition of the committee will be announced later.

Some government sources agreed that this was an area within the jurisdiction of the elected government but thought that this could not be considered interference by the nominal heads because the role of this committee would be merely that of a “catalyst’’.

The two-day conference of the Governors had initially caused some fear in government circles. There was anxiety that Narayanan would go out of his way to raise issues that would embarrass the government. But he had caused only a few ripples.

“There was no confrontation between Rashtrapati Bhavan and South Block,’’ a government official said.

But the President’s sympathetic attitude towards scheduled castes and tribes is a known attribute. Besides, Narayanan himself did not have to take the initiative to suggest such a committee. The number of complaints that were made by quite a few Governors about welfare funds not reaching the people they are meant for paved the way for his announcement when he summed up the two-day conference this evening and thanked the Governors for their insight and contribution.

The Vajpayee government had taken the conference quite seriously. Two days before the meet, the Prime Minister had driven over to Rashtrapati Bhavan to discuss the agenda. Even the President responded to the courtesy by toning down his criticism of the government when he referred to the ongoing “disharmony’’ in society without mentioning the onslaught on Christians openly. He also kept his known dislike for fast-paced economic reforms at a low pitch.

Home minister L.K. Advani, who addressed the gathering, did mention the government’s discomfort over Christian-bashing. Advani said his government “deplored the attacks on Christians and Christian institutions and exhorted the states to investigate all such attacks and take action against the guilty and those who were behind the attacks.’’

That the conference was taken with more than a degree of seriousness was apparent from the tenor of Vajpayee’s speech. He said the “views expressed by the Governors will serve as inputs in formulating policies as well as in streamlining Centre-State relations.

Vajpayee spoke about the important constitutional responsibilities discharged by Governors and the crucial role they play in serving the interests of the common man.

The five seniormost ministers of the Vajpayee government addressed the meet. External affairs minister Jaswant Singh briefed the Governors on foreign policy and on relations with neighbours. He spoke of the upswing the country’s foreign policy has achieved in the recent past with a large number of exchange of visits and several countries supporting India’s case for permanent membership of the Security Council. Others who spoke were defence minister George Fernandes and finance minister Yashwant Sinha.

Advani advised states to be vigilant on law and order and “make special efforts to deal firmly with elements that attempt to destabilise the nation’’.    


 
 
MUDSLIDE MAYHEM IN MUMBAI 
 
 
FROM DEBASHIS BHATTACHARYYA
 
Mumbai, July 13 
Armymen joined today in the search for survivors of a mudslide that crushed a crowded shantytown in a Mumbai suburb as rescuers extracted bodies of 58 people from the rubble in the heavy rain that froze the country’s commercial capital in its tracks. Reports of deaths coming in from other parts of Maharashtra took the toll up beyond 90.

The state government called in the army as heavy rains battered Mumbai and its neighbouring areas for the second day and hampered the rescue work at Azad Nagar, the pulversied shanty town in Ghatkopar.

To avoid hurting survivors, rescuers used their hands to sort through the mound of rubble that the slum was reduced to when a mud hillock came crashing down on it in yesterday’s rains.

Chances of finding any survivors were fading fast in the evening as armymen, along with police and municipal workers, dug through in the light of lamps, but failed to hear even faint cries for help from under the debris.

Police feared that at least 50 people might still have been trapped in the crushed shantytown that housed more than 1,000 families of mostly migrant labourers. At the foot of the hill, much of the slum was swamped by the mudslide triggered by incessant rains.

The dead included 14 women and 18 children. Neighbours failed to identify the bodies of 21 people who had recently come to stay at the slum, one of the many dotting Mumbai.

The bodies of some people were crushed beyond recognition by the boulders that had come hurtling down with the mudslide. Sheikh Hyder, a survivor, said most of the inhabitants stayed indoors yesterday. Many were napping when the accident occurred around 4 pm.

“There was a loud noise and I was struck on the head by falling boulders. I passed out. When I was brought out from under the rubble with three of my brothers, they were all dead,” the youth said.

Twenty-three survivors, admitted to hospitals with grievous injuries yesterday, were in serious condition, police said.

Much of central and western Mumbai remained waterlogged as heavy rains, brought on by a low pressure, pounded the city. Weather officials said Mumbai had received more than 350 mm of rain in the last 24 hours and forecast more heavy rains.

The Navy was called out to evacuate people on the outskirts of the city’ living close to lakes that were threatening to overflow.

Local train services, lifeline of thousands of commuters, were suspended yesterday after the tracks got waterlogged.

The Central and Western railways reopened this morning after pumping out much of the accumulated water, but trains were few. No train ran on the Harbour route, connecting the metropolis to New Mumbai because the tracks were under water.

Although many flights were cancelled or diverted yesterday, things improved at Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport. Still, most flights were behind schedule.

Movie stars like Govinda were all dressed up with nowhere to go as the rains put a stop to outdoor shooting, giving the busy actors and actresses an unscheduled holiday. But indoor shootings went on uninterrupted.

Leading citizens criticised the government for its unpreparedness. “Even though this happens every monsoon, the concerned agencies hardly bother to find a solution,” writer Shobha De told a local newspaper.    


 
 
GERMAN TOWN TO HOST JUMBO RACE 
 
 
BY MADHUMITA BHATTACHARYYA
 
Calcutta, July 13 
Elephants, a maharaja, a princess and an Indian mayor of a small town in Germany. When they come together, what you have is the ‘Cup of Maharaja’ — 14 jumbos pounding down Hoppegarten, once a racecourse beyond the Berlin Wall in erstwhile East Germany.

Making history comes easy to Ravindra Gujjula, a doctor by profession and mayor by occupation.

Gujjula, from Hyderabad, became the first non-White mayor of Germany and has been running the small town of Altlandsberg since 1993 with three more years to go.

Inspired by the celebration of the 50th year of India’s Independence in Germany, Gujjula thought organising an elephant race was as good a way as any to “draw attention to the culture of India”.

“It has taken one year to organise. It would have not been possible without the support of both the Indian and German communities,” said the mayor, who went to Germany in 1973 to study medicine and stayed back.

The elephants are being rounded up from local circuses, but the royalty is coming all the way from India, the land of jumbo races. Maharaja Gaj Singh of Jodhpur is already in Berlin for Sunday’s race and Yashodhara Raje Scindia, the princess of Gwalior and sister of Madhav Rao Scindia, is on her way.

All this is costing a pile, 500,000 Deutschmarks, or nearly Rs 1.1 crore.

The maharaja will enter the arena atop the first elephant to open the event that will have six races, each covering 350 metres, with three to five elephants running every time.

Each ticket costs DM 17-20 and the event managers have already sold 20,000, expecting another 10,000-15,000 to go in the next couple of days.

“Of course we want to make a profit. But it is all for charity.” said Gujjula.

“Some of the proceeds go to a new kindergarten in Altslandsberg, with the lion’s share allotted to relief for children orphaned during the Assam floods. Naturally, being born in India, the country still has a strong hold on me and I wanted to contribute in a tangible way.”

It was not always smooth sailing for the ‘Cup of Maharaja’. Gujjula had some initial opposition to deal with. Animal rights organisations in Germany had a few questions to ask.

“They thought that it was like the races of yesteryear where the elephants were prodded on by arrows and such. We had to assure them that there was nothing of that kind going on here.”    


 
 
4-YEAR-OLD MARRIED TO DOG 
 
 
FROM SHANKAR MUKHERJEE
 
Haringhata (Nadia), July 13 
Every dog has his day. Sanjay’s happened to be Monday when Anju married him.

Four-year-old Anju was given away in marriage to the six-month-old dog in the hope that Sanjay would bring luck to the accident-prone girl who lives at Mohanpur in Nadia district, about 50 km from Calcutta.

Anju’s father, Subal Karmakar, an employee of Bidhan Chandra Krishi Viswavidyalaya, followed all traditional Hindu rituals at Monday’s marriage. Anju’s “father-in-law” and the owner of the brown dog, Barun Dutta, a neighbour, organised boubhat on Wednesday.

“I had to do it to ward off the evil eye. My youngest daughter is suffering from various diseases from her birth and suffered a number of accidents. One astrologer, Badal Bhattacharya, who is known to our family for years, advised me to marry my daughter off to a dog to save her life,’’ Karmakar said.

He said that since it had to be a dog that his daughter had to wed, he felt a known dog was always better than an unknown one. “Barun is my old friend and like our relative. He has a dog which I selected as my son-in-law,’’ he said.

So up went a pandal and a decorated entrance to it, the lights shone bright, the shehnai sounded and, of course, the feast.

Anju was dressed in a red Benarasi sari, an odni draped over her tiny head, and a big garland of jasmine hung from her thin neck. One of their neighbours, Parama Karmakar, arranged the bridal dress.

Amid blowing of conchshells and much ululation, little Anju garlanded the groom dressed in a piece of blue-and-white cotton cloth.

The groom had no name till he entered the chhadnatola, where the marriage rites take place. When the priest asked the guardian of the groom to reveal his name and gotro (sub-caste), Barun was stumped. One of his quick-thinking relatives came up with the answer: he named the dog Sanjay.

After the rituals were over, the “couple’’ was kept in a specially- decorated room with members of both families around them.

As many as 300 guests were invited to the marriage ceremony. The CPM local committee secretary, Kamal Karmakar, was among them along with his comrades.

“I did not hesitate to spend money to please the guests despite my limited financial ability,’’ said Subal.

The menu for the feast was rice, murighanta, two types of vegetable, fish curry, mutton curry, chutney, papad, curd and rasogolla.

The guests brought along gifts, the kinds that are seen in every man-woman marriage. One of Subal’s close relatives presented a toy and a packet of chocolates.

“Nobody brought anything for the kutta but I have given him a silver ring,’’ Subal’s wife, Annada said.

Subal’s brother-in-law, Nirmal, revealed after some hesitation: “We have given a dowry of Rs 1,000 to the owner of the kutta, Barun.’’

People are surprised that Subal, being a moderately educated person, fell for such a superstitious rite. “We went to see the fun and to eat a mouthful of meat,” said Tapan Dutta, a resident.    

 

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