Centre lays groundwork for super tax
Hospitals top relief need-list
Tremors, rumours shake cities
US military’s relief-force awaits signal
Bangaru blasts President speech
Basu Babri blame on Rao
Road rage over teen death
Calcutta tourists killed
Mother Dairy in Bolpur takeover
1000 rolls to get a groom

New Delhi, Jan. 29: 
The Centre is mulling an additional one to two per cent super surcharge on all taxes, along with current surcharges on direct taxes, to meet the huge cost of reconstructing quake-hit Gujarat.

Top finance ministry officials said “the current surcharge of 10 plus one per cent on corporate taxes as well as the 15 per cent surcharge on top bracket income-tax payees” would remain. “What we have to decide is whether an across-the-board super surcharge will be set,” they said.

Finance minister Yashwant Sinha dismissed reports about a “Gujarat surcharge” as “speculation”.

But ministry officials confirmed they had been asked to work out on paper how much could be earned by imposing a super surcharge (which would be levied on surcharges already in existence).

Officials said wherever a super surcharge already existed, such as the one per cent on corporate tax, it would be converted into the quake super surcharge. “Only where there is no super surcharge can an additional tax be placed. Otherwise it would be inequitable,” they said.

Earlier, the BJP government had indicated to industry chambers that the current surcharge on direct taxes might be withdrawn. But post-quake, matters have changed.

“Calculations made earlier are now redundant. We have to work on the basis of new figures which will in turn depend on estimates of the devastation,” officials said.

Industry chambers estimate that assets worth about Rs 25,000 crore have been lost in the quake.

Much of the damage is to infrastructure like roads, airports, railways, telecom towers, schools and offices, besides private individual property and small businesses. Large businesses have been spared major losses.

The government is, however, unwilling to put a figure on losses. Sinha informally spoke to reporters after a meeting with EU commissioner for external relations Chris Patten but refused to give figures.

But he confirmed that multilateral financial institutions were being approached for aid to the tune of $ 1.5 billion, of which $1 billion will be from the World Bank and $500 million from the Asian Development Bank.

The finance ministry today also arranged with banks and insurance firms to set up camp offices in quake-hit areas.

All insurance claims will be settled on the spot on production of death certificates.

Banks have been instructed to be liberal with individual loans for repair work.

A separate committee of bankers has been set up to decide rescheduling of loans and grant of fresh loans to existing borrowers.


New Delhi, Jan. 29: 
Three days after the killer quake turned thriving areas into wailing death zones, the Centre today came out with its precise requirements in Gujarat to tackle the disaster.

After a meeting of the Crisis Management Group (CMG) this afternoon, agriculture secretary Bhaskar Barua said the requirements had been spelt out by the Gujarat government after careful thought.

The state government, he said, did not want individual doctors but orthopaedics who could come with “self-contained teams”. The CMG spokesman said it was best if the relief teams came with their own field hospitals complete with tents, beds, x-ray machines, mobile operation theatres, paramedics and nursing staff.

He added that it would be even better if they brought their own ration. The government, he explained, could only provide water and electricity connections to self-contained medical units.

Second on the requirement-list were debris-removal equipment like payloaders, forklifts and cranes, which should reach authorities in Ahmedabad within the next 48 hours. A welcome bonus would be personnel to run these machines.

Barua said the Centre was willing to provide ships to carry these equipment to Kandla and any other port in Gujarat from where they could be despatched to the Kutch region. He said that after tomorrow, sniffer dogs would no longer be necessary as there will be no chance of anyone staying alive under the debris.

No foodgrain was required. What the state needed was organisations that could run free, self-contained kitchens or food langars in places like Bhuj, Anjar and Bhachau, the regions worst-hit by the calamity. Except for water and electricity, the local administration would hardly be able to provide any other help.

Clothes are needed urgently, Barua said, as most people could not go back and retrieve their wardrobe. A number of Bhuj residents have been wearing the same clothes over the past few days.

More than individual tents, the government needed NGO support to help set up what it described as “tent-cities” and “tent-colonies”. Since entire neighbourhoods had been wiped out, this could help improve the situation.

Hopes of sending required relief to the virtually flattened Bhuj rose today after railway tracks were repaired till Gandhidham and beyond till Kukuma.

Barua, who made the announcement after the CMG meeting, said if the railways could proceed another 10 kilometres they would reach Bhuj. He said a complete rail link with this devastated northern town was expected by tomorrow.

“Once we send relief material to Bhuj, we can link ourselves better with affected areas like Bhachau and Anjar. At this moment we are utilising a massive airlifting capacity,” he said.


Jan. 29: 
Men in dhotis and women in nightgowns, wailing infants and sleepy toddlers rushed out of their homes in panic today morning as tremors and rumours rocked India’s infotech and commercial capitals.

“Mama, is this an earthquake?” six-year-old Shruti asked her mother at their home in Yeshwantpur, Bangalore, when mild tremors measuring 4.3 on the Richter scale shook the city for two seconds this morning.

The answer was a quick grab at her and a flight down to the relative safety of the street.

Residents reported that vessels, windows and other articles started rattling, making them run for safety.

“My maid, who was in the kitchen, shrieked and ran out of the house,” said Shweta Kumar, a housewife in a Bangalore suburb. “My neighbour’s mother rushed out clutching her new-born grandson.”

A leading software company advised its employees to stay out of the building for an hour at no-on. “We are going with the trend,” a software engineer remarked, indicating that other companies were also reacting the same way.

The tremors were not aftershocks from the quake in Gujarat, said G.J. Nair, head of the seismology division at the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre in Mumbai.

“These tremors are independent and are a normal occurrence,” he said. “Such seismic activities take place all over the world all the time.”

“The tremors lasted for two seconds at 8.08 am and the epicentre was 35 km south of Bangalore,” A.L. Koppar, director of the India Meteorological Department, Bangalore, said.

Police said no damages were reported but panic-stricken schools sent students home while some workers in highrise buildings stood on the roads in fear of more tremors. Shops in the highrises downed shutters.

Rumours about the likelihood of more shocks threw the telephone network out of gear as the number of calls jumped, a telephone department official said.

The scenes were not much different around Mumbai. The otherwise deserted streets of Mira-Road-Bhayandar area of Thane district and the western suburbs of the metropolis were crowded with panic-stricken people as rumours of a fresh quake spread like wildfire.

“I was fast asleep when I was awakened by our watchman asking us to come outdoors as there were tremors,” said a resident of Mira road. “I rushed out along with my family to see the entire neighbourhood on the grounds at 2.30 am,” he said.

The meteorological department in Mumbai has received 500 phone calls since last night. “There was a call practic- ally every minute,” said an employee.


Washington, Jan. 29: 
The US’ new foreign policy triumvirate met in an unusual session during the weekend and agreed to enact a rerun of the security drill conducted during former President Bill Clinton’s visit to India last year.

If the Indian government gives permission, giant transport planes of the US Air Force will ferry concrete cutting equipment while US Army helicopters will help set up mobile hospitals in Gujarat’s earthquake-struck areas needing urgent medical aid.

Canada, one of the first countries to announce relief assistance to Gujarat on January 26, yesterday trebled its contribution to three million Canadian dollars.

As in Washington, a National Task Force on Natural Disasters made up of representatives of the departments of foreign affairs, national defence and the Canadian International Development Agency met in an emergency session in Ottawa and told Indian high commissioner Rajanikanta Verma of the additional funding.

The US Agency for International Development (USAID) also increased its relief assistance from $ 1 million to $5 million and set up a special task force to monitor relief requirements.

Water purification equipment, generators, blankets and sheeting supplies from USAID have already arrived in Gujarat along with a seven-member disaster assessment team which will report on further relief needs to Washington.

In Fairfax, Virginia, a pack of sniffer dogs specially trained for rescue work has been assembled to be sent to Gujarat as soon as clearance is received for their flight to India.

Doctors in the US, who are among the most active segments of the Indian American community, are preparing to provide help to the injured.

A team from the American Association of Physicians of Indian Origin is leaving for Ahmedabad. The six-man delegation led by P. Balasubramaniam, a trauma surgeon at the University of California, will take a mobile surgical unit along with it.

The association has been encouraged by reports that several of its members who were on holiday in India have opted to stay back to help.

The story of one of them, Mihir Meghani, who was in Uttar Pradesh to attend the Kumbh Mela has been reported in the American press. Meghani cancelled his Mela plans and rushed to Bhuj where he is doing voluntary work in a makeshift hospital.

Gujaratis and other Indians in North America, frustrated by disrupted or choked communication channels and unable to contact relatives back home, thronged temples in the US and Canada yesterday seeking solace and working out ways of sending relief.

In London, too, thousands of Britons passed through the ornate, marble doorways of a Hindu temple to pray for the safety of relatives, adds Reuters.


New Delhi, Jan. 29: 
The simmering tension between K.R. Narayanan and the Centre showed no signs of subsiding after Bangaru Laxman came down strongly on the President for criticising the Prime Minister in his Republic Day-eve address.

The BJP chief today told The Telegraph that Narayanan should not have chosen the occasion to air his views on the Constitution review panel and object to Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s suggestion of a fixed tenure for Parliament. Vajpayee had come up with the idea at a function to celebrate the Election Commission’s golden jubilee.

“Whether the legislature should have a fixed term or not is not such an issue the whole nation is concerned about or debating. If the Constitution review panel circulates some papers seeking public opinion, does it deserve comment from the President of India? It is certainly not in the spirit of Republic Day,” Laxman said.

He added that the earlier occasion when the President voiced his dissent with the review panel was “more appropriate”.

“He was specifically addressing Parliament members so it was okay. But this time he was addressing the entire nation,” Laxman said. He felt that Narayanan ought to have dwelt on more important issues like Kashmir.

Laxman also criticised Naray-anan for speaking out against the Narmada dam and voicing concern at the lack of a rehabilitation scheme for those who could be displaced once the structure comes up. “How can he speak against the dam? He was a Central minister when work on the dam was going on,” he said.

The President, he felt, could always summon the state governments concerned or, better still, ask the Governors to come down. “According to the Fifth Schedule of the Constitution, tribals and their welfare are the exclusive subject of Governors. They can exercise their powers. Is it necessary for the President to show his differences with the government on so many issues?” Laxman said.

He claimed there was a groundswell of support for the project. “There was a turnout of seven lakh when work formally restarted (after the Supreme Court go-ahead). What will happen to the sentiments of the people of Gujarat? See how much water shortage there is in Bhuj. People there see the Narmada dam as their lifeline. For the sake of 2,000 families, who may be displaced, should crores suffer?”

On the uneasy equation between the President and the Prime Minister, Laxman said it was up to Narayanan to set things right between them. “Being head of the state it should be his responsibility. If the government does not listen to him, he has the powers to correct an erring government,” he said.

But he added that the President, instead of speaking on issues directly impinging on the Centre’s policies, ought to “draw the nation’s attention to evils creeping into society”.

“Nobody need teach the President anything because he holds an esteemed position. It is up to him to draw a line and say I will go this far and no further.”

Laxman criticised Narayanan for allegedly “bypassing the Prime Minister” in the past whenever he sought clarifications on certain matters.

“On the opening up of civil aviation to the private sector, he straightaway summoned the departmental secretary instead of first speaking to the Prime Minister. Again, on the telecom issue, he spoke directly to Jagmohan,” Laxman said.


New Delhi, Jan 29: 
In his deposition before the Liberhan commission inquiring into the demolition of Babri Masjid, Jyoti Basu today blamed former Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao for inaction and accused erstwhile Uttar Pradesh chief minister Kalyan Singh of defending the act.

The CPM politburo leader repeated before the commission what he has been saying at public meetings — how he, along with his party colleague Harkishen Singh Surjeet, had tried to persuade Rao into taking action against those who were planning to bring down the mosque.

“At the meeting of the National Integration Council on November 23, 1992, we proposed that Article 356 should be used if there was no other way of protecting the mosque,” said Basu.

Two days before the demolition, Basu rang up the Prime Minister to tell him about his apprehension that the mosque may be attacked. “The Prime Minister said the working committee of the Congress was to meet on the issue. But your lordship knows what happened,” said the former Bengal chief minister. In the aftermath of the demolition, the CPM had blamed Rao for failing to anticipate it.

Basu said he had confronted Rao on why nothing was done to protect the mosque. The latter, according to the CPM leader, had said: “How could I disbelieve a chief minister when he assured me that the mosque will not be harmed?” Then Basu handed over to Rao a tape recording Kalyan Singh’s speech in Calcutta on December 2, 1993.

In his speech, Singh said: “I express before you, I did not have any repentance, pangs or agony for the same and had the pleasure to declare it as a historic day. I can tell you, my friends, without the inspiration of God, such a colossal job of demolition could not have been done within 5 hours without using an explosive device.”

Depositing the cassette before the commission, Basu said Singh in his speech had declared that a contractor could have taken one- and-a-half months for demolishing the mosque. Singh, Basu quoted, had said: “The birth of the new nation will take place after December 6, 1992. The demolition of the structure has become an affair of pride to the nation.”


Malda, Jan. 29: 
Two teenagers were injured when students and local residents fought a pitched battle with policemen at Mothabhari, nearly 25 km from Malda town, this morning over the death of a 13-year-old boy in a hit-and-run accident.

Police opened fire to disperse a 1,500-strong mob which virtually laid siege to the Mothabhari outpost for nearly two hours.

Local residents alleged that a lorry, loaded with bags of sand, picked up speed when policemen tried to stop it for extorting a hefty amount from its driver. The driver lost control and hit Islam Sheikh, a Class V student of a local madarsa.

N. Kaushik, additional superintendent of police, said: “Within seconds, hundreds of local residents, mostly students from the nearby Mothabhari High school, gheraoed the outpost and later went on the rampage, hurling bricks at the policemen. The mob also ransacked the outpost.”

The injured were admitted to the Malda Sadar hospital where the condition of Manirul Sheikh (13), a Class V student of Mothabhari High School, was stated to be serious. Doctors, however, declared the other student, Dipankar Mondal (14) of Class VI in the same school, and others out of danger. Twelve persons have been arrested.

Tension gripped the area which has been surrounded by personnel from the Rapid Action Force and State Armed Police. Senior officials are camping there to monitor the situation.

Malda district magistrate Ajit Ranjan Bardhan has ordered a probe into the firing. He admitted that the police had to fire 14 rounds to disperse the rampaging mob. “But I still feel that the incident could have been avoided if the police had either resorted to a lathicharge or lobbed teargas shells,” he said.

Police superintendent Debashish Roy promised that those found guilty will be punished. “We will take action on the basis of findings of the inquiry,” he added.

Eyewitnesses blamed the policemen stationed at the outpost for the incident. “If the policemen did not intercept the loaded lorry and ask money from its driver, the mishap would not have occurred,” said Sheikh Alam of Mothabhara.

He complained that policemen at the outpost resorted to firing without any provocation when the people gheraoed them, demanding an immediate ban on extortion. “As we stepped up the protest asking policemen to stop extorting vehicle-owners passing through the outpost, they opened fire at the mob,” Alam added.

Muzaffar Ali, headmaster of Mothabhari High School, alleged that the policemen had called in additional forces from the neighbouring Kaliachak and Baishabnagar police stations.


Siliguri, Jan. 29: 
For the 12 tourists from Calcutta’s suburbs of Lake Town and Krishnapur who had braved the chilling climes of Sikkim, it was to have been a memorable winter trip. But the final leg of their holiday in the hills turned tragic, cutting short seven-year-old Trina’s life.

Trina was among four persons killed when their Tata Sumo plunged into a 700-foot gorge near Reyang in Kalimpong last evening. The others who perished were Chandra Nath Naskar (28), Rakhal Das (29) and the driver of the vehicle, Raju Lama (27), died on the spot.

Ten people were injured and have been admitted to North Bengal hospital.

Trina had accompanied her relatives to Sikkim as had six-year-old Debashis Das who had gone with Rakhal. Debashis is recovering in hospital.

The tourists were returning to Siliguri after a holiday in Gangtok. Trina and Das were residents of Lake Town while Naskar stayed in nearby Keshtopur.

Police said the driver, in a hurry to reach Siliguri before nightfall, lost control of the Sumo which fell into the gorge on the banks of the turbulent Teesta at Suntaley between Lohapool and Teesta Bazar on NH 31A around 4.30 pm on Sunday. Suntaley is around 37 km from Siliguri.

Rescue operations were hampered due to the difficult terrain of the region. The injured could be shifted to Siliguri after local residents and personnel of the Reyang police outpost rushed to the spot. The injured had to be lifted with the help of a makeshift “rope-lift”.

Trina, a resident of Lake Town, was travelling with some relatives. Six-year-old Debashis of Lake Town’s Nutan Pally lost relative Rakhal Das. Debashis is admitted in North Bengal hospital along with four other family friends from neighbouring Krishnapur.

Hospital sources said the condition of Bubai Bhattacharya of Krishnapur’s Majerhpara is serious. Among the injured are a resident of Mohisbathan and one from Uluberia. The cleaner of the vehicle is also among the injured.

The accident comes close on the heels of the mishap on Friday night in which 14 people were killed when their jeep hurtled down into a 1000-foot gorge in east Sikkim. The victims were returning to Gangtok after a two-day picnic at Darjeeling and Mirik.

Sikkim chief minister Pawan Kumar Chamling today announced an ex gratia of Rs. 50,000 to the families of the 14 people killed in the accident. Those injured will get up to Rs 10,000.


Bolpur, Jan. 29: 
Mother Dairy yesterday took over the management of the Bolpur Dairy — a cooperative dairy of milk farmers — to enhance the production of milk in and around Birbhum district.

The 4,000 litres of milk produced by the dairy every day will from now on be marketed by Mother Dairy.

A Mother Dairy official said the move was aimed at preventing distress sale of milk in Bolpur. Mother Dairy also plans to increase production to 10,000 litres a day.

Minister for animal resources development Anisur Rahman said the government was determined to help milk farmers of Bengal to increase their production.


Behrampore (Murshidabad), Jan. 29: 
Like most girls her age, 18-year-old Rakhi Khatoon dreams of a husband and a family. Unlike others, her wish is linked to the number of bidis she can roll every day.

Rakhi and others of marriageable age have to churn out at least 1000 tendu sticks a day if they are to find a match.

The ability to make bidis — an industry which holds together Murshidabad’s economy — determines the fate of women who belong to bidi workers’ families in this border district.

Rakhi’s mother Anju Bewa is spending sleepless nights in her house in Raghunathpur as every marriage proposal has been rejected. The reason: her daughter cannot roll more than 400 bidis per day. Anju has arranged special training for Rakhi to improve her hand in tendu-leaf rolling.

“Rakhi has been undergoing vigorous training for the past three months and her bidi-making skills have improved remarkably. Today she can roll around 700 bidis a day,” Anju said.

In Murshidabad district, the Rs 2,500-crore bidi industry — claimed to be the largest in the country — is spread over Jangipur, Raghunathpur, Farakka, Shamshar, Suti, Raghunathgunj, Sagardighi Lalgola, Bhagabangola, Salar and Bharatpur where nearly 30 per cent of the population is engaged in manufacturing bidi.

A district official said there are about 4.5 lakh bidi workers in Murshidabad of whom 3 lakh are women who roll about 5 crore bidis per day.

The parents of a girl who is capable of rolling 1,000 bidis a day does not have to pay any dowry — which ranges between Rs 20,000 and Rs 30,000 in cash — while a prospective bride who is not as efficient and can make only about 300 to 400 bidis does not have any taker.

Reshma Khatoon, mother of two, was turned out of her house in Jangipur by husband Rabiul Sheikh after four years of marriage and was forced to stay with her father only because she could not roll 1,000 bidis a day.

“How can my daughter, burdened with two kids, roll 1,000 bidis per day? Reshma’s husband and mother-in-law just simply did not listen to logic and drove her out of the house,” said Islam Sheikh, Reshma’s father.

Farida Khatoon of Dhulian had also met with the same fate but her husband took her back after she moved court.

Girls like Rupali Khatoon, Kamala Khatoon and Rozi Khatoon of Jangipur have given up school to get trained in the art of making bidis.

Making bidis also has its disadvantages also. Most labourers suffer from tuberculosis, gout and asthma.

Tuberculosis and asthma are caused by constant exposure to tobacco dust while diseases like gout and arthritis are common because the labourers have to sit in a particular position for hours together.

“The average life-span of a bidi worker is between 45 and 50 years because they pick up various types of diseases like asthma and other lung ailments due to prolonged exposure to tobacco dust,” a district health official said.


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