Life-giving food drops from the sky carrying death
More baby deaths come to light
City on five-day high tide alert
Hindu marriage registry shot down
Old school beckons reform guru
Pawned ironman rusts in bondage belt
Calcutta weather

 
 
LIFE-GIVING FOOD DROPS FROM THE SKY CARRYING DEATH 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Sept. 25: 
Gokul Bairagi and his neighbours were waiting in a huddle for three days for food to arrive.

When it did, it came with death.

Gokul Bairagi was crushed under sacks of chira and gur dropped by the army at Khanakul in Hooghly district.

This morning the whine of an approaching helicopter sliced through the moist air, carrying in its belly food for starving Bairagi and his fellow villagers who gathered quickly on a dry patch of land.

When the first few packets streamed down from the skies, they rushed to collect them. They were looking up at the sky to follow the path of the sacks being dropped by the helicopter hovering above them.

Bairagi, too, was running with them. A sackful of chira and gur fell on him. Cut off by water all around, he could not be taken to a doctor. Bairagi died on the spot.

Thousands of marooned people at Khanakul, less than 100 kms from Calcutta, have gone without food for about three days as the area is inaccessible. Army helicopters had also failed to make sorties for bad weather.

In official records, Bairagi’s death went down as one of the 418 people who have so far died in the flood. Two hundred are estimated to be missing.

For the over-3 million people affected by the flood, life was getting back a semblance of normality in the 4,000 camps across six districts. Water is receding in Murshidabad, Burdwan, Birbhum and Hooghly. “Nadia is still badly hit as the water draining out of Murshidabad, Burdwan and Birbhum is flowing through it,” finance minister Asim Dasgupta said.

With discharge from Massanjore and Tilpara dropping to zero, the fear of fresh flooding has faded. “Unless there is a recurrence of rainfall, the situation should ease gradually. But, with the high tide in the Hooghly starting from Tuesday midnight, the rate at which water will recede will decrease,” Dasgupta said.

Deputy chief minister Buddhadev Bhattacharya, who surveyed the flooded areas with Dasgupta, blamed the Met office for inadequate warning. “We have gone through the reports from the weather office and there was no indication there of such a deluge,” he said.

A report from still-submerged Katwa in Burdwan said people demanding relief besieged the block development officer. “What else will they do if they go without food for days and we can’t reach them relief because of inaccessibility,” chief minister Jyoti Basu said.    


 
 
MORE BABY DEATHS COME TO LIGHT 
 
 
 
Calcutta, Sept. 25: 
Eight babies had died three days before 10 passed away within 36 hours at the B.C. Roy Children’s Hospital in Narkeldanga. The deaths took place in the medicine ward.

However, the health department said the deaths are “nothing unusual”. The hospital claimed its annual mortality rate of about 2 per cent is “within limits”.

But the rate is greater than the international rate set by the World Health Organisation for a paediatric institution. The hospital suffers from overcrowding and its ultrasonography (USG) machine has been out of order since 1997.    


 
 
CITY ON FIVE-DAY HIGH TIDE ALERT 
 
 
BY TAMAL SENGUPTA AND PRONAB MONDAL
 
Calcutta, Sept. 25: 
The spectre of a deluge returned to haunt the city 48 hours after the anniversary of last year’s marathon rain as the Met Office forecast the onset of a five-day-wave of high tides beginning tomorrow.

In the line of the predicted chain of tides (bhara kotal) are several areas of south and north Calcutta like Tollygunge, Kalighat, Southern Avenue, Bhowanipore, Bagbazar, Chitpur and Cossipore.

Mayor Subrata Mukherjee said civic authorities have alerted residents of Bagbazar, Chitpur and Tollygunge over loudspeakers. The Calcutta Municipal Corporation has put the drainage and sewage wing on high alert.

Mihir Guha, deputy director general of the Alipore Met Office, said the first high tide was expected on Tuesday midnight. Weather office sources said the tides are expected to peak on Thursday night and surge up to 6.4 metres. The Met Office has also forecast high tides on Wednesday at 12.49 pm and another at 1.14 am.

Adding to the alarm, the city was pounded by heavy rains for nearly two hours this afternoon. There was waterlogging in Karunamoyee, Sector I and III, Ultadanga and Kankurgachhi. In Ultadanga and Kankurgachhi, waterlogging crippled traffic.

Panic button was pressed during the day in north Calcutta as Hooghly waters began to swirl in to the Bagbazar canal. About 20,000 people living along the banks of Bagbazar canal have been warned by the Chitpore police station in north Calcutta on Monday.

The police sounded sounded a red alert in the evening and many slum dwellers on both sides of the canal are being shifted to safer places. Anticipating heavy inflow of water, the state irrigation department has already lined up sandbags on the canal to dam the Hooghly waters.

But the Bagbazar canal is not fully prepared to check the water inflow as two sluice gates between the river Hooghly and the canal are lying defunct for several months. As a result, water pours into the canal uninterrupted during high tides.

Water from the river flooded the canal this morning, submerging a number of shanties close to the canal banks.

A.K. Sarkar, state irrigation secretary, said “temporary bridges” had been set up on the canal by using sandbags in view of the forecast by the weather office.

“In case of such high tides, the canal might be overflooded, causing waterlogging in the area. We are, therefore, trying hard to resist huge inflow of river water to the canal and construct the temporary bridge,” he added. “We are planning to repair the sluice gates and necessary tenders for the job will be floated soon,” he added.

The mayor, however, informed irrigation department that the CMC would not be responsible if flooding takes place due to the defunct sluice gates. “It is the irrigation department’s responsibility to maintain the sluice gates,” Mukherjee said.

Minister of state for irrigation Ganesh Mandal said that the government had not anticipated such a rise of water in Hooghly. “The river is rising probably because of discharge of water by the Damodar Valley Corporation,” he said.    


 
 
HINDU MARRIAGE REGISTRY SHOT DOWN 
 
 
FROM R. VENKATARAMAN
 
New Delhi, Sept. 25: 
The Centre has made it clear that registration of Hindu marriages will not be made compulsory, either by amending the Hindu law or bringing in new legislation.

The Centre rejected a suggestion of the National Human Rights Commission recommending mandatory registration of a Hindu marriage. An official source said the Centre “found it difficult to interfere in the personal law of any community” and left it to the states to bring in necessary amendments in legislation or enact a new law for the purpose. A communication to this effect has been sent to the NHRC, sources said.

The NHRC in its recommendation said making registration of Hindu marriages mandatory would help reduce child marriage. It’s observation came after its preliminary study on child marriages, especially in states like Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Bihar and Rajasthan.

The Centre pointed out that states like Karnataka, Maharashtra and Gujarat had already passed laws making registration of a marriage compulsory and it would be appropriate for other states to enact a law, rather than the Centre interfering in personal law mandating registration.

The NHRC said the existing law, the Child Marriages Restraint Act, 1929, has not been effective in curbing the social menace. The NHRC, already flooded with complaints of child marriages, suggests that an amendment or enactment of a new law mandating registration of marriages would at least reduce instances of child marriage.

The Centre has pointed out that the existing Hindu Marriages Act has a provision for registration of marriages. But it is not made compulsory and it is optional for the parties to register the marriage either at the time of ceremony conducted in accordance with Hindu religious and Vedic prescriptions or after the performance of the ceremony.

The Centre had also not been able to amend the law relating to Christian marriages, the Indian Marriage and Divorce Act, after resistance to the proposed amendments from certain quarters of the community.

Former law minister Ram Jethmalani brought in the proposed amendments and held two rounds of discussions with about 20 major Christian organisations, including all Christian MPs cutting across party lines. His successor Arun Jaitley has put the issue on the back-burner and no effort has been made to revive the process of discussion.

Christians opposed the amendment that Churches cannot conduct a marriage between a Christian and a non-Christian. Such marriages were proposed to be registered in courts directly.

“The BJP at this juncture may not want to stir one more controversy by amending the Hindu Marriages Act or by bringing in new legislation mandating registration of Hindu marriages,” a political source said.

NHRC chairman Justice J.S. Verma had already stated that the commission has not been “armed” properly to make its decisions binding on anybody. Since the commission’s role on such matters is only recommendatory, it cannot compel the government to abide by its suggestions.    


 
 
OLD SCHOOL BECKONS REFORM GURU 
 
 
FROM RASHEED KIDWAI
 
New Delhi, Sept. 25: 
Manmohan Singh may be preparing for a second-generation of reform. Unable to fit into the Congress’ court politics and increasingly disillusioned by the repeated attacks on his economic policies, the reforms guru is considering a quiet fade-out.

Though Singh’s lips are sealed, his well-wishers have been hinting at the possibility of the good doctor returning to academics. The former finance minister has several standing offers from universities and institutes across the world to be a visiting fellow.

Along with academics, Singh could also involve himself with Track-II diplomacy, a mission that includes I.K. Gujral, Amartya Sen, Muchkund Dube, former Pakistan diplomat Niaz Naik and some representatives from Bangladesh.

Singh is leader of Opposition in the Rajya Sabha and heads a number of Congress panels, including the now defunct “ethics committee”. Sonia Gandhi, who has been persuading Singh against “retiring”, is trying to keep him in good humour by putting him on manifesto committees of various states going to polls next year. But Singh’s heart is not there.

He is unhappy with the way the party has been functioning, especially the high command’s proclivity to flirt with “realpolitik” — be it fund raising, forging alliances or power-sharing.

Some say that Singh is yet to recover from the shock defeat in South Delhi in the 1999 Lok Sabha elections. He lost to the BJP’s unfancied Vijay Kumar Malhoutra amid rumours that a section of the Congress, unhappy with Singh’s increasing clout, had queered the pitch.

Singh’s Rajya Sabha term ends in March 2002 and the buzz is that he would be upstaged as leader of the Opposition by Arjun Singh, who is perceived as an integral part of a powerful coterie around Sonia. The Madhya Pradesh leader has never been comfortable with Singh’s brand of economics.

So far, Sonia has protected Singh from the attack on his reforms, but an equally determined lobby within the party is bent on forcing a U-turn.

Many have complained to their president that the grassroots workers are finding it difficult to explain to their constituents the benefits of the reforms. With the polls round the corner, the rank-and-file believes the Congress must take a second look at Singh’s legacy.

That, for Singh, will be the final blow. He recently refused to address a group of party leaders on reforms on grounds that he did not want to waste his time on those who had no understanding or the patience to grasp economic thinking of the emerging world order.    


 
 
PAWNED IRONMAN RUSTS IN BONDAGE BELT 
 
 
FROM TAPAS CHAKRABORTY
 
Ranchi, Sept. 25: 
Chatur Lohra was 20 when his father pawned him to an iron foundry owner in exchange for a loan of Rs 15,000. Thirty-five years later, Chatur, now known as “Lohawala”, remains a pawn, his hands hardened, his soul scalded.

From early in the morning till late in the night, Chatur sits in front of the smouldering fire and hammers on the red-hot iron rods. “I get Rs 10 every day as daily wage. Master says he is deducting the loan from my salary. Hence, the wage is so low,” says Chatur, sitting in front of his small hut in Bichahatu village, about 15 km from Bundu on the Ranchi-Jamshedpur road.

The illiterate man does not even know how long it should take to repay the money. “He just soldiers on and on,” says a member of the village panchayat.

Chatur is not alone in his misery. Belying an earlier report that South Bihar was free of bondage, the state’s social security department has identified at least 27 labourers in the region who are slaves in their own lands, trapped in misery for decades, some for as long as 40 years.

What’s surprising is that at least 10 of these men serve rich tribals.

“This will certainly explode the myth that South Bihar is less feudal in character (than the central and northern regions),” said social scientist Samuel Toppo.

In a report to the Bihar government earlier this year, Ranchi’s deputy commissioner had said that the capital-designate of Jharkhand state and its neighbouring areas were free of bonded labour. A Central government study, too, did not include Ranchi in its list of districts where bondage was rampant.

But a survey carried out by Chanakya Vihar Seva Sansthan, an NGO, for the social security department identified two blocks of Ranchi district — Sonahatu and Torpa — as worst affected. Alarmed, the labour department has commissioned three NGOs to carry out a detailed study.

   


 
 
CALCUTTA WEATHER 
 
 
 
 

Temperature

Maximum: 33.7°C (+2)
Minimum: 26.3°C (0)

Rainfall:

0.6mm

Relative humidity

Maximum: 95%,
Minimum: 67%

Today

Possibility of light rain in some parts of Calcutta and its suburbs    
 

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