Centre mulls blackout of baby food ads
Peres follows in Arafat footstep
Dacoits lynched after hot chase
Industry sets up eastern CMs’ meet
BJP for Atal seal on proposals
Smouldering sadhvi in resignation replay
Sonia plea for divestment panel
Tripura ethnic violence toll 7
Another Bodo leader falls
Meghalaya ministers’ security tightened

 
 
CENTRE MULLS BLACKOUT OF BABY FOOD ADS 
 
 
FROM MONOBINA GUPTA
 
New Delhi, Aug. 21: 
A cherubic face beams on the television screen. The baby lying on his back is fed spoonfuls of a brand of infant food marketed by a multinational. It works like magic — the infant gets up and starts walking.

Most people will find nothing offensive about this advertisement, but it has raised the hackles of government and non-government organisations campaigning for breastfeeding and against infant milk substitutes, feeding bottles and infant food.

For them, this advertisement is tantamount to violation of the Infant Milk Substitutes (IMS) Act passed in 1992. The IMS Act bans advertisement of all milk substitutes and feeding bottles. It allows advertisement of infant food but only on compliance with certain guidelines. Now even this privilege may be taken away.

The government is planning to tighten the Act by extending the ban to advertisement of milk food like Nestum, Cerelac, Farex, Weano and Lactogen 2.

“We are going to amend the Act and one of the suggestions is to ban the advertisement of baby food,” an official in the human resources development ministry said.

The IMS Act states that advertisement of infant food must be accompanied by the warning that infant milk substitutes or infant food is not the sole source of nourishment for the baby. They must not use terms like ‘full protein food’ or ‘health food’, ‘energy food’ or ‘complete food’.

The Act also bans manufacturers and distributors from making gifts to pregnant women, mothers of infants and members of their families.

“We are not against infant food. But most advertisements of infant food do not specify the age when the infants should be put on this food,” a government official said.

A recent study on the use of infant food in the slums of Mumbai showed that mothers were diluting Cerelac and feeding it through the bottle. “Instead of highlighting the importance of mother’s milk, the advertisements glorify infant food,” the official added.

But the amendment to enlarge the scope of the ban will nettle manufacturers. Companies like Nestle, which have a large chunk of share in the infant food market, have already shown their disapproval of the restrictions on advertisement.

Three years after the Act was passed, Nestle had moved court against its provisions.

Despite repeated efforts by The Telegraph, Nestle did not respond to the questions put to it.

Arun Gupta of the Breast Feeding Promotion Network in India (BFNI) charged multinationals with dodging the law. “This kind of behaviour is typical,” said Gupta, whose organisation is one of the four chosen by the government to monitor the implementation of the IMS Act.

Although the Act has stopped all advertisements of milk substitutes and feeding bottles, guidelines on infant food remain on paper only. “All through these eight years, private television channels have been advertising infant food without sticking to the guidelines,” Gupta said.

In 1997, Doordarshan, under pressure from the Centre, was forced to drop the advertisement of infant food. But last year, the advertisements were renewed and Doordarshan claimed that it had the sanction of the law ministry.

Latest research shows that a baby should be breastfed till the age of six months. Any advertisement of infant food without this basic information is harmful for the child. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), one of the major causes of malnourishment in children is inadequate breastfeeding and premature introduction of complementary feeding.

Every year, almost 10 per cent of children born in India die before the age of five. Four per cent of children die before completing one year. It has been estimated that a bottle-fed baby is nine times more likely to die before the age of one than a breastfed baby.    


 
 
PERES FOLLOWS IN ARAFAT FOOTSTEP 
 
 
FROM PRANAY SHARMA
 
New Delhi, Aug. 21: 
The West-Asia peace process appears to be charting out a new route through Delhi, with Israeli leader Shimon Peres arriving here to brief “friend India” on the latest developments in the vexed tangle.

Coming as Prime Minister Ehud Barak’s special envoy, Peres is scheduled to arrive on the 24th before leaving for Tel Aviv on Saturday.

The visit, which follows that of Palestinian super-boss Yasser Arafat, couldn’t have come at a better time for the BJP-led government.

If Arafat’s visit last Friday gave the ruling coalition the opportunity to tell adversaries that India was not improving ties with Israel at the cost of its “time-tested” Arab friends, it can now say Delhi has established itself as a major player who is consulted on key world affairs.

The minister for regional cooperation, who is likely to meet Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee and foreign minister Jaswant Singh, will also call on President K.R. Narayanan and Opposition leader Sonia Gandhi.

During his discussions here, Arafat had told Indian leaders of the slow progress in negotiations with the Israelis and made it clear that he might have to unilaterally declare an independent Palestinian state on September 13, after a final decision is taken by the Palestinian Council.

Peres, sources said, will try to give Israel’s side of the story, explaining difficulties that Barak is facing, and could even ask India to use its influence with the Palestinian leaders and dissuade them from doing anything drastic.

During their dinner meeting, Vajpayee had made it clear to Arafat that Delhi had recognised an independent Palestinian state in 1998. But he warned him against doing anything that could derail the peace process.

Though Delhi is likely to give “equal patient hearing” to Peres, the stress would be on an early resolution to the standoff which would enable both Israelis and Palestinians to live in harmony in the embattled region.

The Indian leadership is aware that its response has to be well-balanced so as not to antagonise either of the warring parties.

For India, a close and strong relationship with Israel is important. Not only do the two sides have a common interest in taking a strong stand on internationalism terrorism, a strategic partnership with Israel — though not officially being described as such — puts Delhi in an advantageous position because of Tel Aviv’s superior technology and military hardware. The strong Jewish lobby in the US is also a key factor.

Then, any major shift in its West Asia policy might disappoint not only Palestinians, but the Arab world in general and also important sections in India.

Not only do Arab nations have a huge presence of Indian workers, the Arab world is also an important bloc which can come in handy at a time when Delhi is pushing itself as a “natural contender” for a seat in the UN Security Council.    


 
 
DACOITS LYNCHED AFTER HOT CHASE 
 
 
BY A SAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Aug. 21: 
Violence rocked South 24-Parganas today as five youth suspected to be dacoits were lynched at Kakdwip and in another incident more than 25 shops were torched and another 25 ransacked in Sonarpur.

The five youth were lynched at Kakdwip in South 24-Parganas, about 75 km from Calcutta. Only about three weeks back eight suspected dacoits were lynched at Bhangore in the same district.

According to the additional superintendent of police (industrial), S.N. Gupta, six youth were going to Kamarhati village to commit a dacoity. On reaching Belpukur village they picked up two others, identified as Mukti Mistri and Khairul Seikh, in their vehicle. The two were returning after committing a theft, Gupta said.

Gupta added, Khaledul Seikh, one of the four gangsters, tried to snatch everything from Mukti and Khairul. At this Mukti raised an alarm.

Hearing the commotion local residents gave a chase. Finding no alternative the dacoits left the vehicle and started running. But they soon reached the Ganges and were forced to retrace. All the while they were hurling bombs and firing.

The locals caught hold of all the eight and beat them up. Four of them, identified as Khaledul Seikh, Riaz Molla, Niru Mondal and Mosaraf Molla died on the spot.

In the meantime police reached the spot and Mukti, Khairul and Ranjit Sarkar were rescued and hospitalised. Ranjit later succumbed to injuries.

The police said a country made revolver, live bombs and several rounds of cartridges were recovered

Additional superintendent of police (rural), Gyanbant Singh, reached the site with a large contingent. A police picket has been put up in the area.

The local and police versions of the incident are however, different. There was resentment among the local residents as the police described all the youth as dacoits.

Anil Samanta, a local businessman said, “Mukti is not a dacoit. He is a businessman. He was returning with money when the dacoits dragged him into their vehicle.”

In another incident of violence in the district 25 shops were gutted and another 25 damaged at Khiada and Diara markets of Sonarpur. Local Trinamul Congress leader Shyamal Mondal alleged the violence was a result of a feud within the CPM.    


 
 
INDUSTRY SETS UP EASTERN CMS’ MEET 
 
 
BY DEVADEEP PUROHIT
 
Calcutta, Aug. 21: 
Chief ministers’ conclaves are the flavour of the month. As N. Chandrababu Naidu caused ripples in Delhi with his meeting of chief ministers on the finance commission recommendations, here the stage was being quietly set for an eastern regional conclave on August 30.

Chief ministers of the five major eastern states will meet in Calcutta to draw up a growth path for “balanced regional development”. The Indian Chamber of Commerce (ICC), which is organising the meet, has invited the chief ministers of Tripura, Assam, Orissa, Bihar and West Bengal as part of its week-long annual session. Prafulla Mahanta, Naveen Patnaik, Manik Sarkar and Jyoti Basu have already confirmed their participation. Confirmation from Rabri Devi is awaited.

“This initiative of the chamber is part of our strategy to focus on the development of this region,” said C.K. Dhanuka, president-elect of the chamber.

Simultaneously, the chamber is working on an Asian Development Bank-funded project on promoting sub-regional co-operation among India, Bangladesh, Nepal and Bhutan.

“We feel that unless the region is looked at as a whole, development opportunities can never be explored to the fullest extent. As individual efforts taken in isolation haven’t produced the desired result for the last 50 years, we are emphasising on developing a synergy between the states. So, we are inviting the state heads to sit and discuss the issues and explore the opportunities,” added Dhanuka.

Although the issues for discussion and areas of cooperation haven’t been finalised yet, Dhanuka listed the five most relevant topics: infrastructure development, agro-processing, gas-based industries, better utilisation of the vast knowledge base and proper branding and marketing of traditional products of the region.

The chamber is working on a paper highlighting regional disparities and how cooperation can narrow the gaps.    


 
 
BJP FOR ATAL SEAL ON PROPOSALS 
 
 
FROM RADHIKA RAMASESHAN
 
New Delhi, Aug. 21: 
Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee will vet the political and economic resolutions expected to be adopted by the BJP national executive council during the three-day Nagpur session beginning on August 26.

The objective is to take care of any dissent that may surface in the course of the discussions, particularly because the BJP has spoken in several voices on the government’s economic and Kashmir policies, sources said.

The economic resolution —which is being moved after initial reluctance — will be sent for finance minister Yashwant Sinha’s approval before the draft is placed in front of the national executive.

BJP spokesman M. Venkaiah Naidu said: “We are going to put up the political and economic resolutions for the approval of the Prime Minister and the finance minister first.”

The decision to introduce an economic resolution was taken in a meeting of senior BJP office-bearers, including newly- elected president Bangaru Laxman.

Party sources said Laxman — keen to be on Vajpayee’s “right side” — insisted that a resolution putting on record the BJP’s endorsement of the government’s economic agenda must be moved and adopted.

The economic resolution was a mandatory item on the agenda of the BJP national council, but till a week ago the party bosses seemed unwilling to take it up for “fear” of taking a “clear-cut” stand on issues like foreign direct investment and disinvestment in public sector undertakings.

The BJP had officially opposed both unbridled foreign direct investment as well as divestment, taking a line that was closer to the RSS and the Swadeshi Jagran Manch (SJM) than the government. Office-bearers privately said the party could not afford to contradict the RSS.

The BJP rethink came after Laxman said that silence on the Centre’s economic policies might beam a “wrong signal” and be seen as “tacit” support for the swadeshi lobby’s opposition to liberalisation and globalisation.    


 
 
SMOULDERING SADHVI IN RESIGNATION REPLAY 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Aug. 21: 
Throwing another tantrum, firebrand saffron leader Uma Bharti today resigned as Lok Sabha MP and member of the BJP’s national executive. But the sadhvi said she would like to continue as a primary member of the party.

Uma sent two separate resignation letters, one to Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee and another to Lok Sabha Speaker G.M.C. Balayogi. But she routed the letter to the Speaker through the Prime Minister instead of handing it over directly, sparking speculation in the party about whether she was “serious”.

Copies of her resignation have been sent to mentor L.K. Advani, outgoing BJP chief Kushabhau Thakre and newly-elected president Bangaru Laxman.

Uma cited her “failure” to protect the “weak and the poor” of Bhopal as the main reason for her decision and indirectly blamed the state BJP unit for not supporting her “struggle” for the rights of the people. She was elected to the Lok Sabha from Bhopal.

Uma, who was minister of state for tourism with independent charge, quit the government last year ostensibly to plunge into Madhya Pradesh politics. As the Prime Minister accepted her resignation without hesitation, the BJP leadership encouraged Uma’s state-level ambitions and positioned her as a future leader to fill the “vacuum” caused by the induction of veterans like Sunderlal Patwa in Vajpayee’s Cabinet.

Uma took to her new assignment with fanfare and launched a dharna against the state government’s move to lay off a large number of daily wage-earners. But her protest fizzled out when state leaders and workers stayed away.

In her letter to Vajpayee, Uma wrote: “You may recall that as the Bhopal MP, I went on an indefinite fast to protest the retrenchment of daily wagers. I broke the fast and met you and Advani.”

“Thereafter Digvijay Singh (the Madhya Pradesh chief minister) and Yashwant Sinha met me at my residence on May 20 and took a decision to set up a committee to look into the problems I had highlighted. I do not know what came of this committee because I distanced myself from the cause.

“I did not call off my fast because of the fear of being arrested , but because during the Ayodhya agitation I was in so many Uttar Pradesh jails and Mulayam Singh Yadav (then chief minister) left no stone unturned to break my morale. But the Madhya Pradesh party unit did not stand by me because they were too preoccupied with the organisational polls.”

There were indications from the Prime Minister’s Office that shortly before Vajpayee carried out a “mini” Cabinet expansion — when Samata Party leader Nitish Kumar was reinducted — Uma Bharati had told him she wanted to be taken back into the ministry.

BJP sources said she decided to quit as MP when her request was ignored. In her letter, Uma mentioned that she had made up her mind in early May but did not announce the decision in deference to her Guru (Swami Vishvesh Teerath of Pejawar Math).    


 
 
SONIA PLEA FOR DIVESTMENT PANEL 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Aug. 21: 
Sonia Gandhi shot a letter to Lok Sabha Speaker G.M.C. Balayogi asking him to appoint a parliamentary standing committee on disinvestment.

Sonia said now that a ministry has been created for disinvestment, there was need for a separate parliamentary panel. She said she was forced to bring the matter to his attention because of a “wide divergence of views over direction, speed and content of disinvestment.” Sonia’s letter to the Speaker comes at a time when the Congress is itself sharply divided on the process of disinvestment. Congress spokesperson Margaret Lava said the party has been expressing its concern and opposition to the manner in which disinvestment was being done. She said it clearly marked a departure from the nationally accepted policy of mixed economy. “The way in which Air India, IPCL, Modern Bakery and many other PSUs have been put up for sale does not make the country proud,” Alva said. She said the Congress would not support the course on which the government is set to take the country economically and dismissed the government claim that they were merely following the Congress policy. Sonia, in her letter to the Speaker, said that the panel was needed as the debate in Parliament on the issue has revealed the wide divergence of views on the direction, speed and content of the government’s disinvestment policy.    


 
 
TRIPURA ETHNIC VIOLENCE TOLL 7 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Agartala, Aug. 21: 
With the recovery of five more bodies, including those of two Bengalis, the death toll in the two-daylong ethnic violence in remote Kanchanpur subdivision of North Tripura has risen to seven and more bodies are likely to be recovered.

Police sources said the current round of violence began after a leading businessman, Pushpa Nath, was abducted and a youth, Prajesh Das, was injured by National Liberation Front of Tripura militants in Jayasri market on Saturday.

Following this, irate Bengalis of the area attacked the nearby tribal-dominated villages of Reangpara and Dhananjay Kobrapara.

Apart from setting more than 125 houses on fire, the mob hacked to death two tribals, Pushparam Reang and Shubharam Reang.

A police contingent rushed to the spot to tackle the situation. Inspector-general of police (law and order) K. Salim Ali also rushed to the spot.

Sporadic violence continued in large areas adjacent to Jayasri market. Five more bodies were recovered by the police from the Dhananjay Kobrapara and Machhmara areas and from the Manu river.

The five victims, all of whom had injury marks, were identified as Mahiram Reang, Kansharam Reang, Gautam Sarkar, Charan Vaishya, and Tushamliana Darlong of Kata village.

Sources said following the violence, Bengali families in Jayasri village left their homes and took shelter in Kanchanpur town while tribals of Reang para, Dhananjay Kobra para, Maularam para and Halam basti moved further into the interior areas.

The sources said even though Assam Rifles jawans had been deployed to tackle the situation, tension was mounting as altogether 16 persons, both tribals and non-tribals, are still missing.

The sources said security was being tightened in the entire Kanchanpur subdivision.    


 
 
ANOTHER BODO LEADER FALLS 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Guwahati, Aug. 21: 
Violence flared up in the Bodo-dominated areas of the state as suspected National Democratic Front of Boroland militants went on a killing spree since last night. The rebels mowed down eight persons, including a Peoples Democratic Front legislator at Bijni today.

Bodo leader Mohini Basumatary, 35, was shot dead from close range at his Gargaon residence, four km from Bijni town in Bongaigaon district. The militants also killed two persons in Anandabazar in Barpeta district last night. Five woodcutters were also shot dead in Mahamaya in Dhubri district today.

The killings, believed to be part of the NDFB’s renewed offensive, comes barely two days after Bodo Sahitya Sabha chief Bineswar Brahma was shot dead at his residence here.

Police said five youth came to Basumatary’s residence at 3 pm and shot him dead from point blank range. According to reports available here, Basumatary had an altercation with the youth and they whipped out their weapons. As he tried to flee, the youth chased him around the house before gunning him down.

Incidentally, the Maruti van (AS-17/1440) on which the youth came, belonged to the MLA. The police said they had no report of any car theft in the area.

Basumatary, who represented the 33 Bijni constituency and was elected to the Assembly on April 27, 1997, may have incurred the NDFB’s wrath for favouring Bineswar Brahma’s unification move.

Chief minister Prafulla Kumar Mahanta, who is in Delhi, has cut short his visit and is returning here tomorrow. He reviewed the deteriorating law and order situation with chief secretary P.K. Bora, home secretary M.K. Barua and director-general of police P.V. Sumant and instructed all officials to take swift action to track down the killers.

“I have reviewed the situation and asked the concerned officials to provide full security to the politically vulnerable persons,” Mahanta told The Telegraph over telephone from Delhi. “I have also asked the chief secretary to institute a high-level probe into the killing of Basumatary,” he added. Mahanta is likely to visit the scene of the crime on his arrival.

City police chief Bhaskar Jyoti Mahanta said the two persons picked up by the police yesterday in connection with Brahma’s killing were let off today.

He also hinted at picking up a few more persons tonight for questioning. “Though we have not made any breakthrough, we are now almost sure that the NDFB was behind Brahma’s killing,” he added.

Brahma’ body was taken to Gossaigaon in a procession today and his cremation will be held late tonight at his ancestral village of Bhatarmari in Kokrajhar district.

The Sahitya Sabha has called a 12-hour Assam bandh tomorrow in protest against the killing of its chief.    


 
 
MEGHALAYA MINISTERS’ SECURITY TIGHTENED 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Shillong, Aug. 21: 
Meghalaya police have beefed up security around some ministers in view of reports that the underground Hynniewtrep National Liberation Council is planning to “teach them a lesson”.

The HNLC, which is fighting for a separate homeland for the Khasis, holds these ministers responsible for the imposition of a curfew in this capital city last week. HNLC publicity secretary M. Diengdoh said in a statement that the curfew imposed by the “puppet” government was unwarranted. He said it caused panic among the people and gave security personnel an opportunity to “unnecessarily” harass them.

The militant leader said several houses and churches were also damaged in shelling by security personnel during the curfew.

Demanding that the government take steps to bring the situation back to normal, he said the HNLC would otherwise be forced to “teach some ministers a lesson”.

Home minister T.H. Rangad told The Telegraph today that the top priority of the police was restoration of peace. “We are trying our best to improve the law and order situation in Shillong,” he said.

The capital city has witnessed a series of gunbattles since August 14. A CRPF havildar was killed and a constable injured in one such incident on the eve of Independence Day.

Rangad said the coalition government in Meghalaya would not spare anyone trying to spread terror in the state. “If the militants have a point to make, they should come to the negotiation table. We have kept the doors open for talks,” he said.

Asked if the government suspected the National Socialist Council of Nagalim (Isak-Muivah) of being involved in the shootouts here, the home minister answered in the affirmative.

“The police have specific information about the involvement of Naga militants in the recent incidents,” he said.

According to intelligence reports and confessions made by arrested militants, over a dozen NSCN(I-M) activists sneaked into the city recently to “assist” the HNLC in “hit-and-run operations”.

Security at the state secretariat has been intensified to keep the militants at bay. Anyone entering the building is being frisked and metal detectors have also been implemented. “We cannot leave anything to chance,” a senior police official said.

However, he said security personnel were taking pains to do their job without causing any inconvenience to the people. “We are being very careful. We do not want to take any step that might be construed as harassment of civilians,” he added.

Sources said the law and order situation in the city was presently “under control”. Curfew was relaxed for 14 hours from 4 am today, enabling offices, banks and educational establishments to function normally.

The East Khasi district administration today declared that curfew would be relaxed from 4 am to 7 pm tomorrow following the improvement in the law and order situation in the city.    

 

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