Police foil undertrials escape bid
Survey reveals
Mystery disease toll rises to seven
Tension grips colliery after accident
Tension grips colliery after accident
Fair-focus first in Friday headcount
Exam-bound students face litmus test
Tent rush in tremor town
Rescuers heave under pile-up
Kutch dream rises from rubble

 
 
POLICE FOIL UNDERTRIALS ESCAPE BID 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Feb. 7: 
Two undertrials tried to make a great escape from the Barasat court premises last evening but police caught up with them.

Nibas Chakraborty and Sahid Biswas, both arrested from Habra last week on charges of peddling drugs, were waiting in the lock-up van before the court-call when they sought permission from the constables keeping guard outside to go to the toilet.

The constables, told to keep a “close” watch on the duo, opened the doors of the van. The prisoners jumped and made a run for it.

The police, initially taken by surprise, gave them the chase. They were lucky with Nibas, who stumbled and fell, but Sahid managed to evade the chasing cops.

An alert message was sent to all police stations in the vicinity. Officials fanned out in different directions to hunt down Sahid. One of the teams went to his house at Noapara where they found the criminal packing his bags.

Lawyers of the Barasat court charged the police with negligence. One of them, Nimai Ray, said: “Keeping undertrials in a prison van is against the court’s rules. The court has directed the police to keep all undertrials in the court’s lock-up as soon as they are brought here.”

Additional superintendent of police Praveen Kumar said he had ordered an inquiry into the incident. “If there was any negligence on the part of the policemen on duty, they will be punished,” he said.

   

 
 
SURVEY REVEALS 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Feb. 7: 
As many as 55 per cent of commercial sex workers and their clients in the Baranagar area of north Calcutta have contracted some form of sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV infections.

Worse still, the majority of them were unaware that the disease was caused through sexual transmission.

The findings were revealed in a survey carried out in the area by Bikash Bharati Welfare Society between September and December last year.

At an orientation seminar on prevention, control and management of HIV/AIDS, organised by the society at the National Institute for the Orthopaedically Handicapped in Bonhooghly, speakers warned of a possible increase in the spread of such diseases if awareness levels were not increased and precautionary measures not taken.

For example, the results of the latest sentinel surveillance carried out by the West Bengal State AIDS Prevention and Control Society show that between three and four anti-natal mothers in every 1,000 (3.6%) were HIV positive, up from zero in 1992 and one in 1996.

“Even though this is lower than the national figure of five in every 1,000, it is definite proof that the AIDS virus is percolating into the general population and is no longer restricted to high-risk groups,” said S.K. Ojha, surveillance officer of the state AIDS society.

On the national front, the recently concluded surveillance showed that the quantum of the virus being transmitted through the heterosexual route had gone up from 74.15% to 80.6%, while fresh infections through blood transfusions had come down to 6.1% from 7.6%.

The survey, carried out by Bikash Bharati in the Lebubagan red light area off B.T. Road, reveals :

All three target groups that were approached — sex workers, their clients and substance abusers (those dependent on drugs) — had extremely low awareness levels about STD, HIV/AIDS;

Precautionary measures like condom use were not prevalent: as many as 78 per cent of the sex workers did not use condoms regularly, mainly because of client compulsion;

With government hospitals or health centres, not being located nearby, the sick were going to local doctors and quacks not equipped to handle STD cases.

   

 
 
MYSTERY DISEASE TOLL RISES TO SEVEN 
 
 
FROM PROBIR PRAMANIK
 
Siliguri, Feb. 7: 
The team of medical experts from Calcutta has instructed nursing homes not to mention encephalitis as the cause of death even as two more persons died of the mystery disease in Jalpaiguri, taking the toll to seven.

The medical delegation had yesterday questioned the local doctors’ contention that the mystery disease stalking the region is encephalitis. The team has now instructed the private nursing homes not to write encephalitis in the death certificates issued to families of victims of the disease.

Miffed with the diktat, the nursing homes are turning away patients suspected to be afflicted with the disease. “We have stopped admitting patients showing symptoms of the disease,” said an official at one of the leading nursing homes here.

The official said that they were forced to take such a step as the patients’ families were pressuring them to pinpoint the exact nature of the disease.

The families have little option but to approach the private clinics as the government hospitals are not equipped to tackle the disease.

Local doctors expressed surprise at the Calcutta team’s insistence that the disease is not encephalitis.

Neuro-surgeon Nihar Ranjan Halder, who had attended to four of the five victims who died in Siliguri in the past week, said: “Clinically, the victims treated were diagnosed as suffering from encephalitis as they had showed symptoms of brain infection. Though experts from Calcutta went through the case records of the victims, they did not bother to consult the doctors who had treated the victims.”

“They have instructed the nursing homes not to mention encephalitis as the cause of death. But they did not provide any guidelines on the treatment of the disease,” he added.

Halder wondered how the team had come to the conclusion that brain infection was behind the deaths. “They have not clarified the type of viral brain infection that had affected the patients. How can they say for sure that it is not encephalitis?” he asked.

Local doctors are also sceptical about the team’s assertion that they will diagnose the disease after carrying out tests in Calcutta on the cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) collected from the victims. “CSF has to be refrigerated at a temperature of minus 70 degrees Celsius within 24 hours of extraction from a victim’s body. Otherwise it will die clinically and tests will yield negative results,” they said.

   

 
 
TENSION GRIPS COLLIERY AFTER ACCIDENT 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Asansol, Feb. 7: 
Tension gripped Searsole colliery in Raniganj this evening after a 55-year-old employee died when a trolley fell on him from the ropeway.

Hundreds of workers of Eastern Coalfields Limited gathered at the office of the colliery manager and accused the authorities of negligence that led to the death of Sona Lal Majhi. Local Citu leader Nabakumar Mishra regretted that the ECL management had not learnt any lesson from the mine mishap at Bagdigi colliery in Jharkhand. He alleged that the management had not taken any safety measures for the workers.

The agitation was withdrawn after the management assured the workers that employment would be provided to one member of the family of the victim.

   

 
 
TENSION GRIPS COLLIERY AFTER ACCIDENT 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Asansol, Feb. 7: 
Tension gripped Searsole colliery in Raniganj this evening after a 55-year-old employee died when a trolley fell on him from the ropeway.

Hundreds of workers of Eastern Coalfields Limited gathered at the office of the colliery manager and accused the authorities of negligence that led to the death of Sona Lal Majhi. Local Citu leader Nabakumar Mishra regretted that the ECL management had not learnt any lesson from the mine mishap at Bagdigi colliery in Jharkhand. He alleged that the management had not taken any safety measures for the workers.

The agitation was withdrawn after the management assured the workers that employment would be provided to one member of the family of the victim.

   

 
 
FAIR-FOCUS FIRST IN FRIDAY HEADCOUNT 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Feb. 7: 
Census 2001, the biggest headcount in the democratic world, promises to be fair to the fair sex.

For the first time, the census beginning on Friday will assess the participation of women in economic production, including the unpaid work at home or in the fields which otherwise goes unrecognised.

In another first, the number of disabled in the country will be recorded. Organisations of the disabled had conducted a relentless campaign to convince the initially-reluctant authorities of their right to be counted.

The census will also cover questions on age at the time of marriage for men and the mode of travel to place of work. Respondents will for the first time be asked to record their relationship with the head of the family, apart from putting a dated signature or thumb impression on the questionnaire.

“We are planning to get to the real picture —- the unpaid work done by women behind the scenes,” says J.K. Banthia, registrar-general of the Census Commission. “For instance, the cattle tended to by women is never regarded as paid work but the milk sold by men is considered work,” he explains.

The census starts this week and the first round is scheduled to be complete by the month-end. It will give a snapshot of the population as on March 1, 2001.

Over two million field staff will visit 20 million households in about six-and-a-half lakh villages and over five thousand towns and cities in the first census of the 21st century and the third millennium.

Gender will be a point of emphasis, stresses Banthia. The Census Commission has tried to sensitise its field staff to issues often driven under the carpet, he adds.

The 1991 census had reflected the society’s tendency to hide the work done by women. “As society grew more and more affluent, families headed by males tended to hide the fact that women contributed to the household and the national income,” the registrar-general says.

For instance, the 1991 census records show a mere 4 per cent female participation in agricultural work in Punjab. “This is just not possible. This time we are training our staff to probe a little deeper and get to that which is hidden,” says Banthia.

An important area of concern is the declining sex ratio in the country, particularly in the north. Kerala is the only exception. “If this trend continues, there will be fewer women and men will marry more and more younger women,” says Banthia.

The census will also try to capture the shifting economic trends in the post-liberalisation era. The main source of contribution to the GDP has shifted from agriculture to manufacturing and now to the service sector.

“The composition of the workforce has not changed. Seventy per cent of our population is still in agriculture and we will try to find the reasons for this phenomenon,” says Banthia.

In 1947, agriculture formed 80 per cent of GDP. Now it makes up 30 per cent.

All the censuses in the past have had to grapple with the problem of computing the correct age of the population. Banthia claims that a lot of people are frivolous when it comes to stating their age.

“They seem to be fond of ending on the two digits of 0 and 5.” The problem is heightened by the fact that the majority still does not register births. “We are left in the dark if we want to know the age of the older population,” the registrar-general points out.

   

 
 
EXAM-BOUND STUDENTS FACE LITMUS TEST 
 
 
FROM ANAND SOONDAS
 
Ahmedabad, Feb. 7: 
In a small, dimly lit tent put up for the homeless at Vejalpur, 14-year-old Deepak Parmar tries to concentrate on Archimedes’ principle.

Though Deepak, a candidate for the Class X board exams, has got a fortnight’s reprieve as the test has been deferred from March 19 to April 3, it hasn’t made much of a difference to the way he perceives his future.

“I just cannot concentrate,” says Deepak. “Both my parents died in the quake and my uncle is now looking after me. I know I will fail in my exams because I have forgotten even those things I knew by heart. I think of Mummy and Papa all the time.”

Deepak is one of the two lakh quake-affected students who will be appearing for the SSC and HSC exams without books, shelter, hope or peace of mind.

Sources in the ministry of education said all students appearing for SSC and HSC exams will, in all probability, be passed. “It will be difficult to pinpoint quake-affected children among the nearly 6.5 lakh students taking board exams this year. It will be more difficult to fail any of them for underperformance,” says a professor of Gujarat University who has been an advisor to the education ministry.

“Our conscience won’t allow that,” he added.

Compounding the “conscience” problems for schools is the government circular which directs them to complete the examination process of students from Classes I to IX by March 31. Though the government has given these schools the option of promoting students in “worst-affected areas” without annual exams, it is unclear what will happen to students who have been victims in areas not deemed “worst-affected”.

Traumatised by death and destruction, many of the students who have lost their parents and family members say postponement of their exams by 14 days is “making a mockery of what we have gone through”.

The education ministry is caught in a dilemma: it cannot postpone exams indefinitely and at the same time, it is not sure whether the students will turn up and if they do, whether they will be in a position to answer questions keeping aside memories of the disaster.

Maheshsinh Govil, principal of one of the municipal schools that now lies in a heap of rubble, says: “The government might do all it can, it still won’t be enough.”

While the board exams have been postponed by a fortnight, the education department, under pressure from students and NGOs, has given students from the worst-affected Kutch region the option to take their exams on May 4.

Education minister Anandiben Patel has promised free books, food and special shelters for those rendered homeless by the quake.

But she is also aware of the fact that more than one lakh students from the 3.22 lakh set to appear for the Class XII exams live in quake-hit areas. “Exams have to be held,” Patel said. “The only thing we can do is help them and show leniency.”

For many like Deepak, nothing really matters anymore. “I don’t have any ambition anymore,” he says.

“I used to study hard when Mummy-Pappa were around. I even came first in class a couple of times. But what is the use now. Everything is gone.”

   

 
 
TENT RUSH IN TREMOR TOWN 
 
 
FROM ANAND SOONDAS
 
Ahmedabad, Feb. 7: 
Realtors may soon start investing in tents.

Thirty-nine families from Bhagwati Krupa Apartments in Bopal on the outskirts of Ahmedabad, who are living in tents now, are paying Rs 400 a day since they were thrown out of their flats 12 days ago by the earthquake.

They are the lucky ones. There are others paying Rs 1,000 for a night to sleep in tents provided by “decorators” who say they are out of stock.

Their business is booming everyday with thousands of people either homeless or too scared to return to their houses, damaged or intact.

Says L.D. Vadhel, head clerk at a Kendriya Vidyalaya school: “There was no option. Though nothing much has happened to our apartment, no one wants to return to it. The children are too scared to sleep in the building. Even if it costs a lot we have to sleep in the open, at least for some time.”

His neighbour Lalji Patel says: “The earthquake has revealed that our politicians are terrible people. Forget supplying us with tents, no one from the government has even made a courtesy visit. No one supplies tents for free.”

The story is the same, apartment after apartment, family after family.

In Bopal alone there are around 100 such tents; the bigger the tent, the higher the rent. Says Nitin Vaghela of Balaji Apartment: “Nataraj Decorators supplied a tent which is 10 feet by 10 feet for Rs 700 a night. A 10 by 20 tent goes for Rs 1,500 to Rs 2,000 a night. Though five or more families split the cost, the question everyone is asking ‘shouldn’t the government be supplying us with tents?’”

Though exact figures are hard to come by, many said establishments like Khodiyar Decorators, Nataraj Decorators and Umiya Decorators have made a killing.

The government, however, says it has own problems. “We need at least 1 lakh more tents,” said state home minister Haren Pandya. “Sixty thousand tents is all we have at our disposal. To handle such a huge number of displaced people with so little is an impossible task.

Appealing for more tents, Pandya said: “We need these at the earliest as help has been very slow to come.”

The home ministry said there was nothing “illegal” in renting out tents.

However, Vajubhai Mehta, another tent-tenant, does not agree. “I’m sure there’s nothing illegal about it. Just that it feels rotten to pay for tents full of holes. But imagine what’s happening to those who cannot even pay for tents!”

   

 
 
RESCUERS HEAVE UNDER PILE-UP 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Feb. 7: 
Twelve days after the killer earthquake devastated Bhuj and Ahmedabad, authorities are still grappling with tonnes of debris that have to cleared.

So far, only 20 to 25 per cent of the rubble has been removed.

Sources said the slow pace of cleaning up was because of the preoccupation with rescue work as well as the extra care taken not to hurt anyone who might still be alive under the rubble.

But with hopes of rescuing any more trapped survivors fading, the Centre today asked the state government to give top priority to debris removal.

The Group of Ministers, which met this morning, said the rubble should be cleared fast, especially of the Bhuj hospital, but made it clear that bulldozers should not be used.

Briefing reporters after the meeting, I&B minister Sushma Swaraj said as many as 500 cranes, 300 bulldozers and 2,700 dumpers were engaged in clean-up operations in the quake-ravaged sites. The group, headed by home minister L.K. Advani, will meet again on February 13.

The Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) today came up with the suggestion of converting the mountain of shattered concrete and rotting trash into an economic opportunity.

The CSIR offered to recycle the debris into material that could be used for building roads and embankments or turned into blocks for constructing houses. It could also be compacted into stone columns and placed in bore-holes to strengthen the ground, the council said.

Giving a break-up of the losses, Swaraj said industrial and commercial establishments lost about Rs 8,000 crore. The damage to personal property, she said, was about Rs 1,100 crore, besides the Rs 1,875 crore loss suffered by public buildings.

“In addition to relief measures, the Gujarat government has been asked to simultaneously set up a team for reconstruction and planning. Finances for reconstruction and rehabilitation will be made available as the plans are firmed up,” Swaraj said.

The Group of Ministers has proposed to reconstruct the completely devastated Kutch region. It plans to build a new township with modern facilities and houses strong enough to withstand future tremors.

Swaraj said the urban development ministry has offered to assist the Gujarat government in building the new Kutch besides strengthening existing houses and providing quick roofing as temporary shelter.

The minister said power supply, communications, road and rail links were near normal. Pipe water supply has been restored in nine towns and 772 villages, though some areas of Kutch were still being serviced by tankers.

The official death toll has risen to 16,480 while 1.5 lakh are said to have suffered injuries.

To speed up reconstruction and rehabilitation, the Centre has directed LIC and the GIC to clear the dues of victims within 48 hours.

Finance minister Yashwant Sinha, who met chiefs of the LIC, GIC, banks and financial institutions, has asked representatives of insurance companies to ensure that resources do not come in the way of settling claims of policy holders. They have been told to attend a special meeting of bankers in Ahmedabad on February 9. Swaraj said special claim settlement cells have been set up across the state, though some of them were still working from tents. A control room has also been functioning in Ahmedabad since February 2 to provide information regarding bank accounts, she said.

   

 
 
KUTCH DREAM RISES FROM RUBBLE 
 
 
FROM BASANT RAWAT
 
Ahmedabad, Feb. 7: 
Determined to reverse the cycle of migration, an architect is dreaming of rebuilding Kutch in such a way that people will not leave home for a bigger city.

Balkrishna Doshi, founder of the Ahmedabad School of Architecture and credited with several renowned works of architecture, is working on a development plan on Kutch, says urban areas have become centres of decision-making while hinterlands have been neglected. To reset the balance, he is looking at the calamity of the earthquake as an opportunity for Kutch to rise again, only stronger. The plan will soon be submitted to the state government.

Doshi’s main capital is the undying spirit of the Kutchis.

The Rann, ravaged by earthquakes, droughts and perennial water-scarcity, is very much like Israel, Doshi says. The Kutchis, who struggle all their lives against their desert-like homeland, have the same guts, courage, dignity and capacity to survive.

Such a people, if given proper help, can not only rebuild their lives, but will also lead the country into the 21st century, says Doshi, who is working jointly with the Centre for Environmental Planning and Technology, Hudco and NGOs. But that can be only possible if other people also help to make Kutch a centre of activity by coming over.

The architect is maintaining open house — anyone can walk into Kutch and help build it again. Experts from India and all over the world have volunteered with Doshi who intends to devote at least another five years for rebuilding Kutch.

The Vastu-Shilpa Foundation, Doshi’s organisation, has invited experts in water management, water harvesting, soil and agriculture scientists, building technologies, regional planners, social workers and management professionals.

But Doshi is also inviting craftsmen, artisans, musicians, painters, theatre personalities and literary people from all over the country to Kutch to set up museums and art galleries.

If all that takes place, people will start coming here from big cities which will boost to tourism industry, feels Doshi. He believes there is tremendous scope for marine and tourism institutes in Kutch.

The Vastu-Shilpa Foundation is also working on solving the water- scarcity problem .

But one of the immediate needs, according to Doshi, is transit housing along with activity centres. With the Rann having its own tradition of building, local people will have to be invo-lved in the reconstruction of the city.

Doshi maintained that it would be wrong to lay the entire blame on builders for the collapse of buildings here.

   
 

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