Pak quake series on the rocks
Clinton India fund upstages Bush
Mine escape route stays closed
Basu apology on Midnapore
Good fortune stands by isle of gold
Calcutta Weather

 
 
PAK QUAKE SERIES ON THE ROCKS 
 
 
LOKENDRA PRATAP SAHI
 
Calcutta, Feb. 3: 
The Atal Bihari Vajpayee government is set to “advise” the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) not to field a team in the fund-raising tri-series in Sharjah.

Unless there is a dramatic turnaround, the formal announcement will come Monday.

The fund-raiser for the Gujarat earthquake victims, scheduled for February 8-11 at the initiative of the Asian Cricket Foundation, was to feature India, Pakistan and Bangladesh.

Till yesterday, of course, there was every indication the trip would be cleared —- even though no announcement was made.

Indeed, Prime Minister Vajpayee himself —- who took a call from Pervez Musharraf last evening —- was keen to reciprocate Pakistan’s gesture of spontaneously sending relief.

The best way of doing that, in the present circumstances, would be to allow Indian cricketers to play against Pakistan.

However, according to well-placed sources of The Telegraph in New Delhi, “the wind began blowing the other way” after a most powerful ministerial colleague of the Prime Minister spoke to him this morning.

It didn’t help that later in the day, another high-profile minister, seen as a “trusted friend” of the BCCI, went along with the views of his most powerful colleague.

Among other things, this most powerful minister is understood to have spoken about Sharjah’s proximity to Dubai (a mere 15-minute drive) and the “presence” there of mafia bosses involved in anti-India activities.

The point made was: Permission ought not to be given, even though the ministry of external affairs —- not to speak of Vajpayee himself —- wished that it be so.

It is learnt that the Union sports minister, Uma Bharti, spoke to her powerful colleague before he himself approached the Prime Minister. Bharti is an absolute hardliner on Pakistan.

In fact, while in Madurai today, she told PTI: “I’m happy with the BCCI’s suggestion that Rs 20 crore can be raised in Sharjah. But Rs 200 crore can be raised if our team plays matches with filmstars within the country.

“If the BCCI wants to organise matches in aid of the victims, that can be done in other ways in India itself. There is no need to play Pakistan in Sharjah or anywhere in the world.”

The government blew hot-and-cold before allowing Pakistan to despatch relief. Now, it is about to withhold permission for a cricket engagement which wouldn’t just feature India and Pakistan.

Thus far, the policy has been to discourage only an exclusive series between the two countries.

Incidentally, if Sharjah’s proximity to Dubai is to be a big factor, then there will now be a question mark over India’s participation in all tournaments there. The tremors have only just begun.

   

 
 
CLINTON INDIA FUND UPSTAGES BUSH 
 
 
K.P. NAYAR
 
Washington, Feb. 3: 
Relief efforts in the US to help victims of the Gujarat earthquake received an unexpected shot in the arm yesterday when former President Bill Clinton took the initiative to set up a country-wide organisation to mobilise aid.

The new forum, to be called Americans for Indian Relief and Reconstruction, will have an immediate fallout on what the US is doing to help Gujarat.

First, it will create competition —- hopefully healthy —- with what the White House and US government agencies are doing to reach aid to the earthquake victims.

Second, with the most successful fund-raiser in US history pitching in to help India, contributions by corporate America are expected to outstrip previous expectations.

Within hours of Clinton’s meeting yesterday with Victor Menezes, president and CEO of Citibank and Citicorp, and a group of Indian American corporate leaders in New York, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer was asked what President George W. Bush thought of his predecessor’s first international initiative after giving up office. Fleischer curtly replied that “the President has already taken a number of steps to help the Indian government”.

He was then specifically asked if the former President’s initiative had “annoyed” Bush. The spokesman merely responded that “he (Bush) had no further thoughts on the subject”.

The meeting that decided to set up Americans for Indian Relief and Reconstruction was Clinton’s first public engagement since leaving the White House and moving to New York.

“The US is home to a lot of natural disasters and while, thank God, we’ve never had as many people killed as were killed in this terrible incident (in Gujarat) we’ve had earthquakes, we’ve had floods, we’ve had massive fires, we have a lot of tornadoes every year,” Clinton told reporters at the Citibank headquarters after the meeting. “We have experience and this is one of the ways we can help our friends in India.”

Before meeting the Indian Americans, Clinton spoke to Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and sought his advice on how best to organise relief in America.

   

 
 
MINE ESCAPE ROUTE STAYS CLOSED 
 
 
SALMAN RAVI
 
Dhanbad, Feb. 3: 
A groping administration today failed to rescue the people trapped in a mine that collapsed at the Bagdigi Colliery yesterday, with the rescue team not being able to reach the seam that had caved in.

As the water level in the mine is still high, the chances of survival for the 30 trapped are remote. Officials had said yesterday that 10 heavy-duty pumps have been requisitioned to flush out the water, but only three were installed more than 24 hours after the incident.

A fourth pump, with a capacity of draining out 600 million gallons per minute, can only be installed tomorrow. Besides, only three bore-holes have been dug so far to dewater the Bharat Coking Coal Limited (BCCL) mine in Lodna.

“Whatever is being done is only an eyewash. These small and weak pumps cannot flush out such a large concentration of water. The water is continuing to flow into the mine much faster than it is being flushed out,” said Anand Upadhyay, brother of Abhay Kumar Upadhyay, the colliery manager trapped inside.

“It is only today that the authorities are getting additional pumps from other collieries. I think it is too late by now,” he added.

Those trapped could survive only if an airpocket is created inside the inundated mine, according to P.K. Sinha, a senior general manager of the company. However, hope receded with the level of water not going down inside the seventh seam.

A 10-member team, equipped with a portable pumpset, entered the mine this morning after it was beaten back last night by ‘black damp gas’ causing lack of oxygen in the mine shaft, said BCCL chairman-cum-managing director Ashok Kumar Mehta.

Security considerations for visiting dignitaries overshadowed the rescue effort, leading to chaos at the pit heads. Rescuers were also unable to install pumps within the stipulated timeframe.

This drew the ire of the relatives of trapped miners. Yesterday, BCCL authorities had said that at least 38 miners were trapped. They have now come out with a fresh list indicating that eight of those thought to be trapped had not reported for duty and are safe.

The Jharkhand government has held the BCCL management responsible for the disaster. “Prime facie evidence indicates that there has been a lack of adequate safety measures at the ill-fated mine,” chief minister Babulal Marandi said.

At the Bagdigi Colliery headquarters, Marandi was greeted by a hostile crowd of union leaders and colliery workers who were sore that he chose to speak only to BCCL officials. Police had to use force to keep the crowd at bay. The mob rushed towards the chief minister complaining of “mismanagement and negligence by the BCCL management”.

The chief minister later expressed his displeasure at the pace of rescue operations. “There have been a series of mine accidents in the Jharkhand region. This is only because safety guidelines are not adhered to by the CIL subsidiaries in the state. Most of the mines are unsafe and nothing is being done to improve the conditions,” he said.

Marandi said that once rescue operations are over, the state government will launch an independent inquiry into the incident. Senior CIL officials indicated that the Centre may also order a court of inquiry by a retired high court judge.

Trade unions, however, want an investigation by police after criminal cases are registered against senior colliery officials.

Trade union leader S.K. Baksi of the Bihar Colliery Kamgar Union alleged that authorities were allowing rescue operations to linger as there was little hope of survival of those trapped.

   

 
 
BASU APOLOGY ON MIDNAPORE 
 
 
OUR BUREAU
 
Calcutta, Feb. 3: 
Jyoti Basu today publicly apologised for not being able to nip in the bud the violence in Midnapore during his tenure as chief minister.

“I must apologise to the people who suffered in the violence unleashed by the Trinamul Congress in Midnapore. Armed Trinamul goons on motorcycles were terrorising the people for a year. Yet the administration did not inform my government of the gravity of the situation,” Basu told a rally organised by the women’s wing of the CPM.

Basu later told The Telegraph that he had “no qualms” about admitting his fault. “I have to take the responsibility because I was then chief minister. I am definitely answerable to the people,” he said.

At the meeting, Basu endorsed the hard line being pursued by his successor, Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, who had yesterday asked police to tackle with an iron hand motorcycle-borne gangs.

Basu applauded the chief minister’s firmness, saying it was a step in the right direction. “If we had taken then the hard measures we are taking now, the situation would not have worsened,” Basu said.

The former chief minister had earlier criticised the party and the administration for the “inept handling” of the Midnapore flare-up, but this is the first time he has publicly apologised over the issue.

Today, too, Basu slammed the administration and Front managers for not giving “due importance” to the initial round of violence.

“It is still a mystery to me that I came to know about the violence in Midnapore only after a year,” he said. “As chief minister, I should have been aware of them much earlier.” He lashed out at the Trinamul, saying attempts were being made to let loose more violence as Assembly elections were round the corner.

The CPM women’s wing leader, Brinda Karat, resented the inadequate representation of women in politics. “I strongly feel that women should be allowed to play a more active role,” she said.

In the 1998 plenary in Calcutta, Karat had walked out of the CPM Central Committee protesting against party leaders’ stand on not inducting women in key decision-making bodies. She was later reinducted into the panel.

   

 
 
GOOD FORTUNE STANDS BY ISLE OF GOLD 
 
 
SUJAN DUTTA
 
Madhapar (Kutch), Feb. 3: 
India’s richest village is sitting pretty in the heart of quake-ravaged Kutch.

Just 3 km south of Bhuj, which, along with Anjar, Bhachau and some neighbouring areas, bore the brunt of the seismic explosion, Madhapar stands out like an island in an ocean of destruction.

There has been no loss of life, the houses are intact. The earthquake is more of a topic of discussion here rather than something that the people got a real feel of.

Around 24 small hamlets in arid Kutch can boast of heavy remittances from their people working abroad. Madhapar is perhaps the most affluent of this cluster of villages with total deposits of a whopping Rs 1,400-1,500 crore.

As many as seven banks have branches here — Bank of Baroda, State Bank of India, Central Bank, Bank of India, State Bank of Saurashtra, Dena Bank and Corporation Bank.

The Bank of Baroda branch has the largest deposits amounting to Rs 300 crore. Post offices, too, have investments to the tune of Rs 550 crore.

The reason: at least two to three persons from every one of Madhapar’s 3,000 households are outside the country.

The people, who belong to the Leva Patel community, mostly work abroad — primarily in Africa and Europe — as carpenters, masons and plumbers. They deposit large sums in these banks as remittances.

Govind Khokani, chairman of the district panchayat education committee, explained the trend: “People here have a great saving culture. They don’t like to spend.”

Khokani said the migration started in the early forties when the British took the people of the village to East Africa to work as labourers on the railway tracks.

Most of them stayed behind and became citizens of Kenya, Uganda and other African nations. Some even went to Europe to eke out a living. But all of them regularly send back huge amounts to their families.

The deposits with the banks shoot up every year as there are few, if any, creditors. Farmers despise loans and repay any dues at the first available opportunity.

As the Kutch district does not have enough water to encourage agriculture and industry, the rate of withdrawal of deposits is also negligible. Consequently, the deposits run into crores in a small village like Madhapar.

Some of these people have rushed back on hearing of the quake. Kirti Devji Varsani, who works as a mason in the Seychelles, got the news on TV and took the first plane to India.

“I’m so relieved that nothing much has happened to my village,” he says.

The villagers are now trying to inform their kin abroad that there’s no reason to panic.

Madhapar is divided into two — Junavas, the old settlement, and Navivas, the new area. While Junavas has been marginally affected, Navivas has emerged unscathed. The pucca houses, with their thick walls and painted in shades of yellow, green blue and brown, are standing firm.

As one enters the village kissing Bhuj after criss-crossing the devastated areas, the first sight is almost one of disbelief. It is almost as if the quake forgot to include Madhapar in its map of destruction.

The people are still not staying inside their homes, for fear of fresh tremors, but are thinking of moving in tonight.

The families have erected a huge and colourful shamiana, that resembles a marriage mandap in the middle of the village, next to the Shiva temple. The scene is one of bliss: some people taking an afternoon nap after a satisfying lunch, others sitting in a huddle and discussing the quake.

In contrast, their neighbours in Bhuj and Anjar are still too numb to talk, walking around with a glassy-eyed look, the shock yet to sink in.

The RSS is looking after the people in Madhapar — not that there’s much to look after. The volunteers are cooking and distributing food to adjacent villages which were not so fortunate.

“Yahan kuch nahi hua. Nakhun katne ke saman nuksan hua (The damage here has been negligible),” says Jitendra Irani, an engineer-cum-RSS worker.

Only one of the seven banks suffered damages. Two floors of the building housing the Corporation Bank had caved in. The rest are safe.

   

 
 
CALCUTTA WEATHER 
 
 
 
 

Temperature

Maximum: 27.7°C (0
Minimum: 18.8°C (+4)

Rainfall:

Nil

Relative humidity

Maximum: 90%,
Minimum: 36%

Today

Partly cloudy sky. Minimum temperature likely to be around 17°C
Sunrise: 6.20 am
Sunset: 5.21 pm
   
 

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