PMK makes mahajot first move
Pullout timing catches BJP off guard
Agony of a beggar everyone calls Sir
Fingers pointed at bosses as glitches stall mine mission
Delhi tiptoes on Karmapa tightrope
Bandh over custody death
Lesson for doctors with World Bank push
Madhyamik alert in bloodbath belt
Subdivision sop for north
Chinese trace roots

 
 
PMK MAKES MAHAJOT FIRST MOVE 
 
 
FROM T.N. GOPALAN
 
Chennai, Feb. 5: 

Party woos Jaya to fight DMK

The PMK’s decision to pull out of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) is likely to have far-reaching consequences in Tamil Nadu.

Political circles believe that the PMK will now align with the ADMK to take on the DMK in the state.

“Everything has been worked out,” said a PMK leader. “It will be a mahajot in Tamil Nadu against the DMK. Most of the ADMK’s allies, including the two Left parties and the TMC, will be part of the alliance. The point is ADMK will agree to a PMK-led government in Pondicherry. That’s the bottomline.”

The PMK fell out with the DMK on who should be projected as the next ruling party in Pondicherry in case the NDA wins the polls scheduled in May.

The PMK had insisted it be allowed to form the government in Pondicherry given its “strong support base”, which the DMK opposed.

The PMK claims it has a large following among the Vanniars (people of an intermediate caste) who make up more than 30 per cent of the electorate in Pondicherry. The Vanniars also comprise a large part of the voters in northern Tamil Nadu. In fact, the PMK could decide the winners in 60 Assembly constituencies.

But there is a large overlap in the support base of the PMK and the DMK. This means, the growth of one party can only be at the expense of the other.

PMK leaders accused chief minister M. Karunanidhi of pitting Vazhapadi Ramamurthy against PMK founder S. Ramadoss, both of whom are Vanniars, to tarnish the party image. Ramamurthy had often debunked PMK’s claims of popular support and had said that it would not be allowed to form a government in Pondicherry.

Political circles read the regular that snipes some NDA members took at the PMK as a move to keep it under constant pressure so that it would not be too demanding when it came to seat-sharing agreements in the state polls.

The NDA, they argue, had assumed the PMK would not join forces with the ADMK. First, because the ADMK camp was already too crowded with the Left and the TMC. Second, it was felt the PMK would want its two ministers to be part of the Union Cabinet — which would not be possible if the party switched loyalties.

But, it seems, they might have underestimated Ramadoss’ determination to form a PMK-led government in Pondicherry. The PMK is sure that Jayalalitha would have no objections in allowing the PMK to form a government in Pondicherry in return for the party’s support in the Tamil Nadu elections.

But it is still uncertain if the ADMK’s allies would welcome the prospect of sharing a common platform with the PMK. Left sources said while they do not relish the prospect, they would not raise any objection in the broader interests of a secular front.

The TMC, too, is unlikely to object, but its strong ally, the DPI, is opposed to the PMK and might have a say in the TMC’s final decision.

   

 
 
PULLOUT TIMING CATCHES BJP OFF GUARD 
 
 
FROM RADHIKA RAMASESHAN
 
New Delhi, Feb. 5: 
The BJP put up a brave face after the Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK) pulled out of the National Democratic Alliance today and seemed all set to join the ADMK bandwagon.

Party president Bangaru Laxman said the development would not affect the Centre’s stability in terms of “pure arithmetic” but admitted that it had caused some “psychological impact”.

“Naturally, there is some psychological impact on both sides. That is why he (PMK chief S. Ramadoss) wrote in his letter to the Prime Minister that he would continue giving outside support to the government in times of crisis,” said Laxman.

“Today, the PMK is not in a position to destabilise the government. It is not as if the government will not survive if they don’t support it.”

But the Centre’s survival was not the only issue at stake. The PMK’s pullout months before Tamil Nadu goes to polls has come as a blow to the DMK-led front, of which the BJP is a part. It is also a shot in the arm for ADMK chief Jayalalitha at a time when she was beset with corruption charges and almost in danger of not being allowed to contest the polls.

“The PMK is a valuable constituent,” a BJP office-bearer said, explaining that it had the following of the Vanniar community whose votes count substantially in several north-western districts. He hoped the presence of the Tamil Rajiv Congress led by another Vanniar, former Union minister Vazhapadi Ramamurthy, in the DMK front would “partially recompense” the loss.

The BJP was not “entirely surprised” by the resignation of the two PMK ministers, N.T. Shanmugham and E. Ponnuswamy. It was the timing of the move — when the Centre is busy handling the Gujarat earthquake — that seems to have caught the party off guard.

“This was on the cards for the past many months and the parties in Tamil Nadu were mentally prepared for it,” Laxman said.

BJP sources said there was a “clash of political interests” between Ramamurthy and Ramadoss. “The resignation may be Ramadoss’ way of drawing the Prime Minister’s attention to the serious quarrel he had at the local level,” a source said.

However, sources admitted that there were “far more serious political compulsions” behind the PMK’s move.

According to independent pre-poll surveys, Jayalalitha is on a comeback trail in Tamil Nadu, thanks to an anti-incumbency sentiment. Ramadoss was possibly considering a realignment with the ADMK, which was untenable as long as he remained part of the NDA.

Jayalalitha’s sudden decision on Sunday to set up a committee to start seat-sharing talks with allies seems to have pressured Ramadoss to make up his mind fast.

   

 
 
AGONY OF A BEGGAR EVERYONE CALLS SIR 
 
 
FROM ANAND SOONDAS
 
Ahmedabad, Feb. 5: 
8.39 am, January 26, a three-bedroom flat in Shantivan Colony, a middle class haven.

H.N. Munshi, 68, is ready to drop daughter Maitri at her office on his old Bajaj scooter, his companion of many years. On returning, the former engineer would disappear behind newspapers, dream post-retirement dreams and emerge long after by the side of the phone, his lifeline, to badger ex-colleagues. Then a leisurely lunch, topped with a thriller — preferably Harold Robbins or James Hadley Chase. Next a pleasure trip — he would pick up grandson Pratik from his school.

But that was till 8.39 am. In the next 1 minute and 50 seconds, Munshi’s world was blown to smithereens. His family survived the earthquake, but not their dignity.

Munshi now lives in a tent with no bed or blankets, where he has to fight for sleeping space every evening. If he is lucky, he gets to share a pillow and a blanket with three others. There are no other amenities.

“You know what I am today? I am a refugee. A beggar whom everyone calls Sir. Have you seen a beggar who is respected like I am?” Munshi asks.

The earthquake has robbed the middle classes of their most-valued possession — respectability. The poor never had to bear that burden “and the rich have made alternative arrangements. It’s tough for people like us,” says Munshi.

“The sleeping arrangements in the tent arranged by an NGO are on a first-come-first-serve basis. Whoever reaches the Scout Bhavan colony first after the day’s wanderings gets to sleep,” Munshi explains.

He misses the other things taken for granted before: drinking water, electricity, toilets, and, most of all, safety.

“There are many things bothering me now,” says Munshi, his helpless eyes unfocussed with his glasses missing.

He has to think of the treatment of his wife, who suffers from severe gout, not knowing where the money is coming from.

He has to think of rebuilding his house. He has to think of Pratik’s education. Then there is Maitri who is jobless now — the owner of the medicine shop where she worked died in the earthquake.

After a lifetime of set patterns and middle class comforts, the old man is suffering from severe physical problems. He finds it extremely difficult to walk for long and find himself a deserted place every time he has to relieve himself.

Though defiant in the face of adversity, Munshi’s bravado crumbles and gives way to uncontrollable rage as he talks of the government.

“Imagine treating respectable people like us this way! No security, no mattress, no blankets, no electricity, no arrangement for food and water, no nothing,” he seethes.

“Can you imagine the plight we are in with nobody to turn to? No government officer has come to meet us till now. We have been left alone by the government which is busy showing what a great job they have done.”

But Munshi suddenly sits up with a jerk. It’s 5.30 pm. Time for him to rush to his tent lest he be left out again.    


 
 
FINGERS POINTED AT BOSSES AS GLITCHES STALL MINE MISSION 
 
 
FROM SALMAN RAVI
 
Inside Bagdigi mine (Dhanbad) Feb. 5: 
It is 1 pm, exactly 72 hours after the seventh seam of this mine was submerged with water gushing in from an adjacent underground water dam and trapping at least 30 coal workers, including two officers. The fate of the trapped miners continued to hang between hope and despair as workers from other collieries of the Bharat Coking Coal Limited (BCCL) went down the trolley lift into the mine with heavy-duty motors, pipes and mechanical accessories.

As the trolley touched the base of the mine’s eighth seam, the dark and humid gallery suddenly lit up with hundreds of lamps flashing from the helmets of the workers. They began unloading the equipment. While some were busy carrying the heavy machines, others were giving a final touch to the fittings.

The eighth seam of Bagdigi mine is being used to instal pumps and dig bore-holes for the dewatering process while the rescue mission is underway in Jairampur colliery. As dewatering carries on at a snail’s pace, a stowing fitter, Kailash Paswan, who has been drawn from the Putki colliery, is a worn-out man. Since morning, he has been busy fitting the pipes to make the pump work, but in vain. Five pumps were flushing out water which had inundated the seventh seam after 72 hours. Paswan was hopeful that the sixth pump would become functional by evening.

Suresh Rajak, the colliery electrician, is not happy at the pace of the dewatering process. “These pumps are too weak to flush out such a huge quantity of water logged in the seventh seam. These pumps have a capacity of 90 horse power while we require at least 220 horse power pumps. At this pace it will take days for the water level to recede,” he said. Rajak’s words proved true with the water-level coming down by only four metres after three days.

Shankar Kumar, a mechanical fitter who has come from area 9 of the company, feels there should have been at least eight such pumps at the Bagdigi mine alone and an equal number at the Jairampur colliery.

As Rajak was speaking to The Telegraph, there was sudden chaos under the mine. It transpired that the 11.3 metre bore hole dug up, according to the plan of the surveyor, for the installation of another pump got obstructed by a huge pillar of coal. “Now we have to dig another hole. You see this is how things work in the mine. Even the surveyor has no idea about the mine though he has got a map of the colliery. You can see now how faulty these maps are and the risks faced by miners who excavate coal according to the map’s layout,” said Ram Avtar Paswan, who is also a union leader.

Asked about the abundant flow of water in the eighth seam, Paswan pointed out that water was being flushed in from the seventh. “They have lifted water from the seventh seam and pushed it into the eighth seam. Water has started logging in the eighth seam as well. If steps are not taken, there are chances that even this seam will soon be water logged, hampering rescue operations,” he said.

Other workers involved in the mission underground echoed similar views. They felt that the BCCL authorities were competent enough to instal heavy duty pumps. An official of the Directorate General of Mines Safety, who was also in the mine, said he had already expressed his displeasure to the BCCL authorities over the lack of safety norms. He said the water dam which had burst out from the Jairampur colliery end was beyond the barrier of coal.

“The map maintained by the colliery management indicates that the barrier is 70 metres. So there was no question of inspecting it. Had the map indicated the thickness to be less than 70 metres, we would have certainly inspected the spot before allowing the miners to excavate coal from there,” the official said. He also pointed out that the dam existed since 1962 when the mine was run by private colliery owners.

Ranjit Kumar, another coal worker, said the Bagdigi colliery produced an average of 500 tonnes of coal per day. He alleged that in order to meet production targets, the colliery management shrugged off safety norms and forced workers to extract coal at any cost.

   

 
 
DELHI TIPTOES ON KARMAPA TIGHTROPE 
 
 
FROM PRANAY SHARMA
 
New Delhi, Feb. 5: 
The fear of either angering China or falling into a Beijing-laid trap has forced India to tread carefully on the issue of Karmapa Urgyen Trinley Dorjee, who was given a Tibetan refugee status last week.

New Delhi is cautious because it has yet to ascertain all the facts about the Karmapa who made a controversial escape from his homeland in Tibet and arrived here more than a year ago.

In the post-Dalai Lama scenario, the Karmapa can be an important card for India to hold against China. But if India were to recognise him as the Karmapa now, it runs the risk of rubbing China the wrong way and derailing the process of normalising bilateral ties.

Equally, if the Karmapa is part of a “Chinese gameplan”, it would prove embarrassing for the country if it were to recognise Dorjee as the Karmapa.

Though Dorjee arrived in India after his “dramatic escape’’ from the monastery in Tibet where Chinese officials had kept a close watch on him, he was granted the status of a “Tibetan refugee” only last week (the information was made public yesterday). But Delhi has not removed certain restrictions on his movements and made it clear that the Rumtek monastery in Sikkim is out of bounds for him.

It took South Block some days to formulate its carefully-drafted statement on publicly confirming the decision to grant him the status of a Tibetan refugee. Care was taken to ensure it does not send out a wrong signal to China or to members of the Tibetan-government-in-exile based in Dharamsala and other parts of the country.

“We can confirm that Ugyen Trinley Dorjee is to be treated as a Tibetan refugee,” foreign ministry spokesman R.S. Jassal said. But couching his statement in diplomatese, he added: “He is free to move in India subject to rules and regulations enforced from time to time.” This was essentially an assertion that Rumtek was one of the places which the Karmapa will not be able to visit, at least for the time being.

In private, China has lauded “the maturity with which India dealt with the Karmapa issue”.

Caught in a spot over his ‘escape’, Beijing continued to maintain that the Karmapa had not fled, but was visiting India to look for some essential items for the religious ceremony of his Buddhist sect. South Block realised China’s discomfiture over the issue, but instead of publicly crowing over the flight, it decided to play down the issue and allowed the controversy to die a quite death.

Though the Dalai Lama and a number of his supporters live in India, South Block’ policy on Tibet has lacked clarity, especially in the context of its overall bilateral relations with China. Off and on, the Tibetans are allowed to hold demonstrations and agitations to run down the leadership in Beijing.

   

 
 
BANDH OVER CUSTODY DEATH 
 
 
FROM PROBIR PRAMANIK
 
Siliguri, Feb. 5: 
The Opposition parties have called a 12-hour bandh in Siliguri tomorrow to protest against the death of veteran Congress leader Kalidas Ghosh at a nursing home here under police custody.

Addressing a joint news conference here this evening, Trinamul Congress, BJP and Congress leaders alleged that Ghosh’s death was the result of police neglect and he was the victim of a conspiracy hatched by the police-lawyer-doctor nexus.

Ghosh (70), an associate of Congress leader Priya Ranjan Das Munshi, was arrested along with his son Saibal in connection with a rape and murder case on January 10. Police had recovered the body of an 18-year-old maid servant, Dolan Roy, who fell from the terrace of Ghosh’s four-storeyed building after she was allegedly raped. While Saibal was granted bail on February 3, Ghosh was admitted to the Siliguri sub-divisional hospital on health grounds on the day of his arrest.

“We are calling a bandh to protest against the custodial death of Kalidas Ghosh and the failure of the local authorities to control the spread of encephalitis that has claimed three lives in the town in the past 48 hours,” the leaders said. A team of virologists from Calcutta’s School of Tropical Medicine left for Siliguri this afternoon to tackle the disease.

The leaders’ alleged that Ghosh was a victim of the conspiracy hatched by the police-lawyer-doctor nexus that “blackmails” prominent citizens of the town.

“Ghosh, who was suffering from acute kidney problem, was not given proper treatment though doctors attending on him at the government hospital had advised that he be shifted to an intensive care unit. We will demand an independent CBI inquiry into the case,” the Opposition leaders said. “Some police officials, lawyers and doctors are hand-in-glove and they blackmail people charged with criminal cases. They concoct reports and extort money from people accused in different cases. Ghosh was mentally tortured by these people who doctored the post-mortem report of the maid servant and tried to blackmail his family,” they added.

The additional superintendent of police (Siliguri), Ajoy Kumar, scoffed at the parties’ claim: “We have dealt with the case in a proper spirit from the very beginning. While Saibal was accused of rape and abetting suicide, Ghosh was booked under Section 306 of the IPC for abetting rape and suicide.”

“The allegation of police neglect is baseless. The family wanted to shift the accused to a better hospital having intensive care unit. They had first approached the North Bengal hospital. Since the ICCU unit there was non-functional, Ghosh was shifted to a private nursing home on February 4. Ghosh died there due to cardiac arrest,” Kumar added.

   

 
 
LESSON FOR DOCTORS WITH WORLD BANK PUSH 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Feb. 5: 
The first batch of senior government doctors posted in the districts have begun training in modern medical equipment and procedures after the World Bank criticised the delay.

The commencement of this clinical training in Siliguri for specialist health service doctors rekindles hopes of making available latest treatment facilities for people in the districts. An important component of the Rs 701-crore World Bank-financed Health Systems Development Project, clinical training of doctors in handling state-of-the-art equipment was the most serious lacuna that a bank team had focused on during an appraisal last November.

Ultrasonography machines, laprascopes, endoscopes, latest pathological equipment and other modern machines worth about Rs 100 crores were lying unpacked at 170 district and subdivisional hospitals for almost a year as there were no trained doctors and technicians to operate them. The bank had given a deadline of January 15 for the project implementers to commence the hands-on equipment based clinical training.

This finally began on Friday at the Surakkha and Sunrise hospitals in Siliguri where 20 specialist surgeons, gynaecologists, radiologists, anaesthesiologists and physicians began their training.

“This is a one-month programme and will be followed with more batches so that all the specialist doctors assigned to the district and secondary level hospitals can be trained,” said Dr S.A. Siraj, special officer in the project, who has recently taken charge of the training component.

Trainers from Hyderabad, including endoscopist Dr Ugale, and Mumbai and Delhi are taking classes. The doctors undergoing the training have to sign a bond, under which they will have to train two other doctors once they return to their centres. Other than ultrasonography, laprascopy and endoscopy, training is also being given in colonoscopy, hysteroscopy, intensive therapy, biochemistry and microbiology.

The first programme has participants from Malda, Cooch Behar, Jalpaiguri, Darjeeling and both the Dinajpurs. Rs 25,000 is being spent on each doctor being trained for the one-month period. The subsequent batches may have up to 50 participants, Dr Siraj said.

Implementation of the five-year HSDP project ends in 2002. Its main objective is to make available quality and modern treatment facilities in the districts.

   

 
 
MADHYAMIK ALERT IN BLOODBATH BELT 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Feb. 5: 
Alarmed by the violence burst in Midnapore district, the state secondary board has requested the government to ensure that the Madhyamik examinations, slated to begin from February 26, are conducted smoothly.

At least 50 examination venues are located in and around the disturbed areas of Pingla, Garbeta, Sabang and Keshpur, the restive district’s most volatile flashpoints.

Fearing attacks on examinees by workers of either the CPM or the Trinamul Congress, the board has demanded special security arrangements at all schools where the examinations are to be held.

According to the board’s rule, students of a particular school are sent to another venue for taking the examinations.

“We have already held discussions with home department officials and requested them to take adequate measures to ensure that the examinations are held smoothly at all centres in the disturbed areas,” board president A.K. Chakraborty said.

A few thousand examinees from Garbeta, Pingla, Keshpur and Sabang are expected to sit for the exams.

The heads of various institutions in these areas, too, have appealed to the government to provide adequate security at the time of the examinations.

“Most examinees in Midnapore’s trouble-prone areas have some political affiliation. In such a situation, there is the possibility of an examinee owing allegiance to a particular party being attacked by his rivals when he goes to a school located in another area to write his exams. It is the government’s and the board’s responsibility to ensure that each and every examinee is able to take the exams freely,” said Prithwis Kumar Basu, general secretary of the West Bengal Head Masters’ Association.

Sources in the board said that more than two dozen centres have been identified as extremely sensitive and arrangements are being made to prevent any untoward incident. A series of meetings between the board members, senior officials from the district administration and police have already been held.

The state home secretary and senior police officials will hold a meeting with Midnapore district police officials at Writers’ Buildings next week to discuss the deployment of additional police forces in the scarred areas during the examination, board sources said.

The board believes that if the examinations are suspended at any one venue, its ripple effects can be felt in other districts as well, the sources added.

More than six lakh candidates are due to sit for the Madhyamik examinations which will be conducted in 2,000 schools across the state. The test will continue till March 12.

   

 
 
SUBDIVISION SOP FOR NORTH 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Feb. 5: 
As part of its efforts to boost development in north Bengal, the government has decided to carve out a new sub-division at Mal in Jalpaiguri district.

A formal decision will be taken at the next Cabinet meeting.

Urban development minister Ashok Bhattacharjee, who is also in charge of north Bengal affairs, today said: “The population as well as commercial activities in and around Mal have increased. As it is a hill area, the administration has to suffer while monitoring day to day performance. The new sub-division will ease the work load and it will be easier for the administration to look after problems in the area, including law and order.”

Ministers and MLAs from the region have often told the government that the people of the region, especially those in Jalpaiguri and Cooch Behar districts, have alleged that they are being neglected.

The Terai Development Board, an agency to look after work in the region, will hold a meeting on February 16 where a comprehensive development plan will be adopted. Besides, the Dhupguri municipality, which was formed recently, will start functioning from April 1.

   

 
 
CHINESE TRACE ROOTS 
 
 
FROM DEBASISH CHATTOPADHYAY
 
Budge Budge (South 24-Parganas), Feb. 5: 
Nearly 4,000 Indian-Chinese from across the country and abroad are participating in the month-long Heritage Festival, 2001 that began yesterday at Achipur in Pujali, about 30 km from Calcutta.

The festival is being organised by the Pujali Municipality in association with the Indian Chinese Association to commemorate their first settlement in India in 1778 and the establishment of the first Chinese temple.

Chinese devotees started from Gee Hung Church in Territta Bazar and gathered at New China Town in Tangra. From there, more than 300 motorcyclists left China Temple with decorated tableaus for Achipur. The rally was flagged off by Subrata Mukherjee, mayor, Calcutta Municipal Corporation.

“Every year, we go to Achipur to pay respects to our ancestors. We go there within two weeks of the Chinese new year which was observed on January 24. This year our visit had more significance as it was the 220th year of our ancestors’ arrival in India,” Paul Chung of the Indian Chinese association said.

Achipur, an ancient town, was once part of the Sundarbans. Tong Achu, who brought with him 110 of his countrymen, started a sugar mill here and built a temple where they could worship their god. The temple also has two images, described as Khoda-Khudi, of local Muslims. After Achu died, the place was named after him. It later came to be known as Achipur.

Ganesh Ghosh, organising secretary of the festival committee, said the festival symbolised the mingling of two cultures. “On this occasion, programmes like Bratachari dance, raibenshe, ranpa nritya and others were presented which exemplified Indian cultural heritage,” Ghosh said.

“Chinese youth presented dragon and lion dances. Chinese girls presented dance programmes. To make the programme a success, Chinese, who live in Australia and Canada, also came and participated,” Chen Khoi Kui, secretary of the Tangra Youth Club, said.

Fazlul Haque, chairman of Pujali Municipality, however saw a deeper significance.

“We have a particular aim to celebrate the occasion. If Achu could set up a business centre after coming from such a far off place, we could also do it. We must make every effort to fulfil Achu’s dreams by setting up more industries here,” he said.

   
 

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