Prawn-culture sharks in Bengal feed on children
Atal rush to clear air on Bangaru post
Centre in shuffle gambit
BJP clubs Congress with Rao
Patel gropes for facesaver
‘Smack’ shock for actress
Pak visit shadow between Putin & PM
Diabetes bomb ticks on India
Fake consumer goods flood Orissa

Sandeshkhali, Oct. 1: 
Ten-year-old Binu Sardar lost her childhood even before she could learn to lisp her first sentence.

The frail Oraon tribal girl from Jharkhand’s Gumla district was sold for a pittance to a Mahato middleman in South 24-Parganas when she was three by her impoverished parents to work as “semi-bonded” labour in the prawn farms here.

Since then, Binu has been sifting through weeds and fishing nets, knee-deep in the muddy waters of the Vidyadhari, hunting for min or tiger prawn larvae.

Like Binu, several other children are toiling away not far from the capital of a state which prides itself for being socially forward.

Her day begins at 3 am, when night still hangs heavy over the dense undergrowth along the river bank near Najart village. She wades into the icy river and scoops up fistfuls of mud and clumps of weeds scanning for “clusters of larvae”, which nestle between the twigs and silt. “It is difficult to identify them in the darkness as they are minute, even smaller than a tadpole. The only things visible are a pair of black, bead-like eyes and two long tentacles, which shoot out like antennae from the invisible snout,’’ says Binu. Come rain or shine, her routine remains unchanged. After scouring the river for a couple of hours, she sifts through mounds of shrimps as fishing boats unload their catch.

By 7 am, she has to hand over at least 1,000 min to the mahajan, who sells it to prawn traders from Calcutta for sweet-water breeding. Each min sells for Rs 4.

But Binu and 100 other Oraon, Dule and Kewra tribal children, who dot the banks of the Vidyadhari since daybreak, often go without food and their daily allowance of Rs 20. “It depends on the mood of the mahajan. The day he makes a good profit, we are paid and on days we fail to deliver our quota, there is nothing,’’ says 12-year-old Sukhiya.

Sukhiya, who joined the trade a couple of years before his sister Binu, is an invalid and helps her out. He lost his right leg — knee downwards — to a kamot (small shark) three years ago. Many more of these children fall to this scourge of the Sunderbans. Sukhiya said two of his friends, Bodhan and Jhantu, have also been crippled by shark-bites. “The mahajan has thrown them out,’’ he rues.

The exacting labour has left the children scarred for life. Most of them suffer from impaired vision. Sukhiya cannot stand “bright sunlight’’ because of pupil dilation brought about by straining his eyes in semi-darkness. His eyes are swollen and the sole of his foot and palms are covered with sores because of exposure to saline water. The tips of seven-year-old Rabi Oraon’s fingers and toes have been corroded and he suffers from goitre.

Manoj Patra, a school teacher in Kalinagar near Najart said: “Children are more in demand because of their sharp vision and nimble fingers.” Since trade here is controlled by Mahato mahajans, cheap labour is imported from Chhotanagpur in Bihar.

The mahajans, who visit remote villages in Ranchi, Lohardaga and Gumla districts every two years, pay Rs 2,500 to Rs 3,000 for each child. Once pawned, these children are rarely allowed to go home.

According to eminent ethnographer and convener of the Jharkhand Buddhijeevi Manch, Pashupati Mahato: “Over 2,000 tribal and scheduled caste children along the Najart-Hasnabad- Basanti stretch have dropped out of school to join the thriving prawn trade.”    

New Delhi, Oct. 1: 
Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee clarified that new BJP president Bangaru Laxman was not his “personal choice” but was elected unanimously by the party.

In his concluding address at the BJP national executive, which met today in the Parliament Annexe for a day-long session, Vajpayee seemed keen to dispel the notion that he had pushed through Laxman’s name allegedly to scuttle Jana Krishnamurthy’s chances as he was perceived to be L.K. Advani’s candidate.

Briefing the press, Krishnamurthy quoted Vajpayee as saying: “Party decisions are always taken with mutual consultation among concerned persons.”

Apart from the clarification on Laxman’s appointment, Vajpayee apparently did some tough-talking at the meeting and stressed that the party had as much “responsibility” as his government in disseminating its achievements right down to the grassroots. “Those in the government are party persons. Government and party are two different aspects of the same work. If this is kept in mind, there will be no problems at all,” he said.

He also reminded the executive that there were “appropriate forums” to express views on any matter and warned the members never to “speak out of turn and provide the Opposition (with) a point of debate”. Vajpayee was quoted by Krishnamurthy as saying: “The BJP is a disciplined party and a party with a difference. All of us have to take care that this image is kept up.”

Though the BJP is yet to constitute a formal mechanism for better coordination with the government — something that has been talked of for the last three years — Vajpayee said: “The party has its work, the government has its own. But the relationship has been smooth and can be strengthened with mutual discussions.”

In an obvious allusion to the petro price hike, which reportedly came in for flak from even Uttar Pradesh party chief Kalraj Mishra who demanded its rollback today, Vajpayee said the economic decisions were taken in the “country’s interest”. He reportedly said although the economic situation was “not too happy”, everybody, including the BJP cadre, should appreciate the “compulsions” under which the tough decisions were made.

When Krishnamurthy was asked to respond to Mishra’s reported criticism in a public meeting in Gorakhpur, he shot back, saying: “None of us like price rise, but how do we manage the situation?” Petroleum minister Ram Naik briefed the meeting on the reasons for the price rise.

Vajpayee described his US visit as “successful” and claimed it had enhanced India’s image in the eyes of the world. The executive adopted a resolution, recording its “deep appreciation” of the “outstanding role” played by the Prime Minister in “so effectively and ably steering the country’s security and foreign policy through these testing times”. It congratulated the Indo-US organisations, specially the Overseas Friends of the BJP, for contributing to Vajpayee’s “successful” visit.

In his address, Advani said Laxman’s Nagpur message, inviting the minority communities to join the BJP, was not new. Krishnamurthy quoted Advani as saying that the 1996 Bhopal executive — held shortly after Vajpayee’s 13-day reign — had also formalised a strategy to reach out to those outside the BJP’s purview.    

New Delhi, Oct. 1: 
The inclusion of another BJP minister of state from West Bengal in the Union Cabinet was a signal to railway minister Mamata Banerjee that she could not have her way in everything.

The BJP had been guessing for some time, and correctly so it now appears, that the Trinamul leader had been toying with the idea of leaving the National Democratic Alliance with an eye on the West Bengal polls.

There was apprehension in the Prime Minister’s Office that she would make her moves around November. That she would make the petro price hike an issue had, however, not been foreseen.

Aware that there was a distance with her, the government included Satyabrata Mukherjee in the ministerial council.

There was no intention to irritate her or increase the hiatus between her and the government. But the message that the BJP, not the Trinamul, is the Prime Minister’s party had to be sent.

Highly-placed government sources said Mukherjee’s name had cropped up before earlier reshuffles too. It was a promise made to the Krishnagar electorate by Atal Behari Vajpayee during electioneering which he had not been fulfilling for fear of estranging Mamata.

With elections due next year, a strong BJP lobby at the Centre had been pressing for better representation of the party in the Central ministerial council. And since Saturday’s reshuffle was actually done more at the insistence of the party than the Prime Minister himself, Mukherjee’s name could not be omitted.

“Politically viewing, Mukherjee is a non-controversial man, being a late entrant to politics and even Tapan Sikdar was not against his appointment,” sources said.

The sources said despite Ajit Panja’s displeasure, Krishnamraju was inducted as another junior foreign minister because Vajpayee had to allow the growth of the BJP in different states, including Andhra Pradesh.

With most major ministries, including railways, having two ministers of state, external affairs was the only place where Krishnamraju could be slotted. Besides, Vajpayee never wanted Panja to play a big role in the government.    

New Delhi, Oct. 1: 
The BJP is being sympathetic towards former Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao, convicted in the JMM bribery case.

At the meeting of the party’s national executive today, president Bangaru Laxman said the Congress “might try to disown or distance itself from Rao to salvage some of its lost moral ground”. The tone was clear: the BJP found the Congress more guilty than Rao.

Rao’s critics within the Congress will obviously cite the former Prime Minister’s soft spot for the Hindu nationalists as a reason for the soft BJP stance. It is also well-known that Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee has been Rao’s personal friend for long.

The BJP ploy, it appears, is to isolate Rao and pile the blame on the Congress as a whole as Laxman said: “...the incontrovertible fact is that it is a judgment convicting him not merely as an individual but the entire Congress party and its culture of resorting to every corrupt means to cling to power. The country should not lose sight of the crucial import of this judgment”.

The Congress has so far been evasive about the verdict and has not really stood by Rao in his hour of crisis.

The BJP had been guarded in its response on the day of the judgment, describing it as “historic” and saying it would have a salutary effect. Today, it was more than apparent that it wanted to implicate the Congress and wanted it to share the blame with Rao.

Briefing mediapersons, party vice-president K. Jana Krishnamurthy said: “It should not be looked upon as a punishment for an individual. What he did was in his capacity as the party president and Prime Minister. It is strange that the Congress is trying to distance itself from a former Prime Minister.”    

Ahmedabad, Oct. 1: 
An overconfident BJP failed to see the writing on the wall. The shock was, therefore, that much greater when the Congress wrested power from it in 22 district panchayats and two municipal corporations.

In fact, the BJP never considered the faction-ridden Congress a major threat. “This election will signal the end of the Congress,” senior BJP leader and health minister Ashok Bhatt had said before the polls. After the drubbing, Bhatt said his party had lost because of the Congress’ manipulative politics.

However, chief minister Keshubhai Patel admitted that the BJP lost because of water scarcity and the long spell of drought in Saurashtra and north Gujarat. In spite of all efforts, the party was not able to fulfil the aspirations of the people. “Frustration over water scarcity led to a change in the voting pattern.”

Political observers feel that it was the poor handling of the water crisis in Saurashtra, particularly the police firing following water riots in Jamnagar and Bhavnagar districts early this year, that sealed the party’s fate.

Moderates, however, hold that the defeat was because the BJP leadership tried to impose the RSS-VHP cadre on the people, ignoring merit for distribution of party tickets. Hardliners attribute the reason to dilution of the “Hindutva ideology”.

Natubhai Takkar, senior VHP leader, feels party president Bangaru Laxman’s call to the minorities to join the party led to the defeat.

The Sangh parivar’s logic does not hold water. If that was the case, the BJP shouldn’t have lost because a number of RSS and VHP members had contested as BJP members, observers feel.

Disenchantment with the ruling BJP over the delay in payment of crop insurance, inadequate water supply to farmers, water scarcity and lack of basic amenities in Gokul Gram created an anti-BJP wave in rural areas where people voted for the Congress.

It is not that the Congress had much to offer the voters. Not many had betted on the Congress because of internal bickerings among various factions. Just before the elections, the Madhavsinh Solanki faction had targeted the faction led by Gujarat unit president C.D. Patel and had organised parallel conventions of the party in various parts of the state.

Due to faction feuds, AICC treasurer Ahmed Patel, Solanki’s main rival, was forced to resign. Former chief minister Shankersinh Vaghela, too, had publicly aired his resentment over marginalisation of his supporters in the polls.    

Hyderabad, Oct. 1: 
Telugu filmstars are fast discovering that fans are like a double-edged sword — they could be their greatest asset as also their worst nightmare.

Little did Bhumika know that a rude shock awaited her when she agreed to fill in for Simran, the actress who was supposed to cut the ribbon of a sari showroom, but did not arrive from Chennai.

The young actress, who made her film debut only last year, arrived in Ammeerpet, a middle-class locality, last evening to inaugurate the showroom. In true filmi style, she stepped out of the car and waved and blew kisses at the motley crowd.

As the crowd surged forward, Srinivas, a local youth, broke through the cordon pretending to present a bouquet to Bhumika. But even before the organisers could react, he had the actress in a tight embrace and kissed her as a dazed crowd gaped.

The actress’ guards pounced on the youth and beat him black and blue, but, eyewitnesses said it had little effect on Srinivas, who kept smiling. He was arrested for causing “public nuisance”.

Recently, some teenagers tried to kidnap an actress from an open-top promotion vehicle in Vijayawada. “They were influenced by a movie in which the actress had enacted a similar scene,” said an inspector in Vijayawada, showing the impact of masala films on the masses.

The incidents have sparked a paranoia and recently, bodyguards of star Ramya Krishnan assaulted a middle-aged man in Sultan Bazar here when he tried to shake hands with her.    

New Delhi, Oct. 1: 
It was meant to be a visit to re-affirm historical ties between the two countries. But when Russian President Vladimir Putin arrives here tomorrow and signs the document on strategic partnership with India, he will need to explain where Pakistan figures in the new relationship.

The Russian President arrives here tomorrow evening for a four-day state visit, but the official part of his visit begins the day after with a ceremonial welcome at the Rashtrapati Bhavan forecourt. This will be followed by delegation-level talks and lunch hosted in his honour by Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee. In the evening, President K.R. Narayanan will host a banquet. Putin is scheduled to address Parliament on Thursday and will also visit Agra and Mumbai before returning to Moscow.

Putin’s visit is significant as it is the first Russian presidential visit since 1993. Boris Yeltsin was the last Russian President to visit the country till that year. During the intervening years, plenty of developments have taken place, including Delhi’s emergence as a nuclear state and its growing closeness with the US.

Putin, who took over from Yeltsin, is fighting a battle to break the economic and political stranglehold of the Russian oligarch — the powerful business-media baron group — and Islamic fundamentalist groups in Chechnya to re-establish Russia’s eminent position in the world.

When he meets the Indian Prime Minister tomorrow for a private dinner and at the delegation-level talks in Hyderabad House on Wednesday afternoon, Putin will have to put forward his views on how the two nations intend to re-interpret their relations in the changing world order.

Russian officials have assured that as far as Moscow is concerned, India continues to be the dominant power in South Asia and it is not worried by the growing closeness between Delhi and Washington.

“Indian economy is growing and it cannot be satisfied by Russia alone. It needs new partners,” A. Volin, deputy head of the Russian government’s administration, said in Moscow recently.

However, referring to the recent visit of Putin’s special envoy Sergei Yastershembsky to Islamabad, Volin pointed out that Russia and Pakistan have diplomatic ties and Moscow, which is facing threats from Islamic fundamentalist groups, realises that Islamabad can be of help.

“Russia should use all possible instruments to prevent the negative fallout on its borders stemming from Afghanistan. This cannot be possible without Pakistan which is influential with the Taliban,” Volin said.

Russian officials also feel that Yastershmebsky’s visit to Pakistan almost on the eve of Putin’s visit to India is a good thing. “It is better that the visit took place before the President came to India rather than after,” a senior Russian official said. He argued that this has given an opportunity to both sides to discuss about developments in the region and steps to be taken to deal with them.    

Sinquerim (Goa), Oct. 1: 
Keep away from the five S’s, and chances are diabetes will keep away from you. Sugar (in the form of calories, not just glucose), salt, stress, sedentary life and spirits are the deadly enemies and could lead to diabetes.

That’s the message of diabetes and nutrition experts, who concluded a two-day international meeting at the Taj Aguada here on Friday.

Edward S. Horton of the Joslin Diabetes Centre in Boston said the number of people suffering from Type 2 diabetes mellitus in India will increase from 23 million to 57 million — a 147 per cent increase — in the next 25 years.

“It has been estimated that by the year 2025, India will have the largest number of diabetic subjects in the world,” A. Ramachandran, director of the Chennai-based Diabetes Research Centre, told the conference.

Steps towards primary prevention of diabetes should be given priority to arrest this major health care challenge that India is posing, he argued.

“More than half of India’s 2.5 million insulin-requiring diabetics are too poor to afford the rapidly escalating cost of insulin therapy,” Kochupillai, All Indian Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) head of endocrinology and metabolism, cautioned.

“Diabetes has not received much importance in India as a public health problem,” said. Chandrakant S. Pandav of the Centre for Community Medicine at AIIMS.

He pointed out that the National Diabetes Control Programme had been started in the late eighties as a pilot-project in three states — Tamil Nadu, Jammu and Kashmir and Karnataka. But the programme could not progress due to the often-felt “lack of funds”.

A study showed that the total annual economic burden of diabetes is Rs 35,714, out of which Rs 16,765 is the direct cost.

This includes routine treatment, monitoring and laboratory and hospital costs.

In addition, there are many indirect costs — time lost from work, lower productivity and even premature death.

Not many are aware that diabetes can lead to severe complications, including blindness, kidney failure, cardio-vascular (heart) diseases and neurological impairment.

Given the big money implications of this disease, there was some corporate interest, too, in this meet, organised by the Delhi-based International Life Sciences Institute-India, headed by V.A. Pai Panandikar.

Corporate co-sponsors for the event included Coca Cola India, Nicholas Piramal India Limited, NutraSweet Company and Pillsbury Company.

A paper by AIIMS physiology head R.L. Bijlani said yoga — whether hatha yoga meant for physical perfection, or raja yoga which concentrates on the mind — could help in preventing and managing diabetes.    

Berhampur, Oct. 1: 
A major racket involved in the manufacture and sale of fake hair oil was unearthed in Ganjam district. Police also seized thousands of bottles of the fake oil of a popular brand.

Preliminary investigation revealed that fake hair oil bearing the names of major brands were being marketed all over Orissa and even in Surat.

According to sources, the police received information that fake hair oil under the Navaratna brand was being manufactured at Pushtapur village under Kodala police station. The spurious product did not bear the “advertisement caption”, Thanda Thanda, cool, cool. Moreover, the product available in bottles proved to be of inferior quality compared to the ones available in pouches.

Various consumer activists complained about the matter. The police raided Pustapur village and unearthed a factory involved in manufacturing fake Navaratna hair oil. Thousands of bottles, fake labels, paper boxes including chemicals were also seized. According to an accused arrested by the police, the whole racket originated from Berhampur— the major trading centre in south Orissa. The city is also well-known for manufacture of other fake goods. A few months ago, the police busted a racket dealing in adulterated cement.

According to consumer activist Bhagaban Sahu, similar cases of fake biscuit and fake soaps packaged as major brands were also unearthed from the city in the recent past. The police also conducted raids in the Bada Bazar area of the city on Wednesday and Thursday.

The racket dealing in fake oil operated from the house of a trader, Badri Patra. Thousands of fake labels of leading brands like Himtaj, Navaratna, Keo Karpin, Dabur Amla, Dabur Mahabhringaraj and Banphul recovered from his house. A sealing machine was also seized. Patra is now in police custody.

According to sources, the racketeers used to mix fake products with a few original samples to evade detection. The products were marketed mostly in rural areas and sent to Gujarat through Surat-bound labourers.

As the fake ones were cheaper than the original, the racketeers raked in hefty profits.

According to consumer activists, a racket selling fake “Britannia” biscuits in Berhampur is also thriving.

These fake product manufacturers depend on printers in Andhra Pradesh and Calcutta for labels and packets.

This summer, fake mineral water was sold in pouches. The pouches with printed Bisleri labels were sold for 15 paise.

Vigilance case: Orissa vigilance department yesterday registered a criminal case against former minister and expelled BJD leader Bijoy Mohapatra, official sources here said, adds UNI.

Mohapatra, who held the portfolio of water resources development in the Biju Patnaik ministry between 1990 and 1995, had been accused of criminal conspiracy and showing undue favour in excavation work of the right main canal of Upper Indravati project and thereby causing loss to the state exchequer by corresponding gain to a private contractor, the sources said.

Besides Mohapatra, a senior IAS officer, Madan Mohanty, who was secretary in the water resources development department during the period including a chief engineer, a superintending engineer, an executive engineer and the additional financial advisor of the department as well as the contractor have also been named accused in the case.

Mohapatra was expelled from the party in the run-up to the last Assembly elections in the state following differences with the party president Naveen Patnaik.The former minister reacted sharply to the criminal case against him.    


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