KPP shelves state, eyes pact
Data drawback in AIDS fight
Disease trail traced to Jan.
Delhi tames China with Tibet diplomacy
Death follows in miracle trail
Full house in temples, discos empty out
Relief bias ruckus reaches Vajpayee
Gujarat takes a lesson from tremor trauma
Sonia in fix on mahajot, Jaya
CPM poll launch

Siliguri, Feb. 8: 
Encouraged by the Trinamul Congress’ support to its language movement, the Kamtapur Peoples’ Party (KPP) has kept on “hold” its demand for a separate state and is considering forging an alliance with Mamata Banerjee’s group.

The Trinamul chief, while ruling out supporting the statehood struggle, had said last month the Kamtapuri’s demand for constitutional recognition of their language was a genuine one.

KPP chief Atul Roy, who met Mamata in Delhi on Tuesday, today said his party will keep on “hold for the time-being” its demand for a separate state.

Describing his meeting with the Trinamul chief as “very satisfactory and positive,” Roy said Mamata had agreed to back the KPP’s language demand.

He said Mamata had assured him that she would take up the language issue in Parliament and also speak to the Prime Minister. “Today we learnt that she has discussed the issue with Union home minister L.K. Advani and also spoken to him about the need for economic development of north Bengal,” Roy added.

The KPP chief said his party was considering entering into an alliance with the Trinamul for the Assembly elections.

“The need of the hour is to oust the CPM-led Left Front government from power. The Left Front has during its 24 years of misrule totally deprived the Kamtapuri people.

“Though we discussed threadbare the possibility of the KPP joining hands with the Trinamul to uproot the CPM-led government, we will talk about the pros and cons of the alliance at the party’s central committee meeting next week,” Roy said.

“We are ready to go in for a seat-sharing electoral alliance with Mamata’s party. But we will have to be fully convinced that the Trinamul whole-heartedly supports the Kamtapuri cause and will not use the alliance for its own political gains,” the KPP leader added.

In Calcutta, the Trinamul reiterated that it was ready to back the KPP’s language demand. “We think the KPP’s demand for constitutional recognition for the Kamtapuri language is justified. We support it whole-heartedly. The Kamtapuri agitators are frustrated because the Left Front government has done little to improve the quality of life in north Bengal. However, we will not encourage any secessionist movement by them,” said Pankaj Banerjee, chairman of the Trinamul’s policy-making body.

Roy said the decision to allow Rajbanshis to enter “Kamtapuri” as their language in the Census enumeration was a signal that the KPP’s movement was successful. “It is a positive sign of success. The KPP and its frontal wing, the All-Kamtapur Students’ Union (AKSU), has been agitating for the inclusion of the Kamtapuri language in the 8th Schedule of the Constitution and this is a signal that we will succeed.”

The deputy director of Census, Palash Kumar, has instructed all district magistrates in north Bengal to allow the Rajbanshis to enter Kamtapuri as their mother tongue in the census enumeration forms.

The KPP leadership has also decided to call off its proposed three-day economic blockade in north Bengal in view of the calamity in Gujarat.


Calcutta, Feb. 8: 
Even though Bengal has made some progress in controlling the spread of HIV, there are a few grey areas that still need immediate attention.

Health officials today said while they had succeeded in building awareness in some sections of society, information, education and communication efforts had to be made more efficient. Health secretary Ashok Chakraborty said the worst handicap has been the state’s weak database on HIV/AIDS. “Over the last four years, 2,000 positive cases have been detected. But the population from which the samples were taken would be only 0.1% of the total population,” he said.


Siliguri, Feb. 8: 
Two more persons succumbed to the suspected encephalitis sweeping Siliguri even as evidence surfaced showing that the killer disease had struck in the region as early as the beginning of the year.

Medical opinion continued to differ on the disease as Salil Das, 28, of Cooch Behar and Aloke Goswami, 26, a Gogomali resident on the outskirts of Siliguri, died in the past 12 hours, taking the toll to nine in north Bengal.

Though the health department is trying to “underplay” the disease, the death register at NBMCH indicates that the scourge had started in January.

The register shows that the first reported case of death due to “meningo-encephalitis” was on January 4. Hospital sources said: “The victim was Rabin Burman of Khowpuria village of Phasidewa. Since then, some nine or eight others have died at the hospital of the same disease. Hospital superintendent Rabin Bannerjee has rushed to Calcutta to submit the reports to the health minister.”

Local health authorities are yet to ascertain the cause of the disease, saying only proper tests conducted on the victims will reveal the true cause.

Darjeeling chief medical officer of health Tarak Nath Chattoraj said: “We cannot attribute all the deaths to encephalitis alone. We are suspecting that some of the deaths could be caused by either meningitis or meningo-encephalitis.

“An eight-member expert team is collecting samples. Results of tests at the School of Tropical Medicine in Calcutta will be known early next week. All state hospitals have been directed to treat patients with high fever with care and monitor the their condition,” he added.

The Siliguri Municipal Corporation has constituted a seven-member task force to control the spread of the disease. Headed by a medical officer II, the team will monitor spraying of insecticides in the affected areas of the city.

Zonal malaria control officer Aditi Kishore Sarkar has left for Calcutta with samples of mosquito larvae to conduct tests at the School of Tropical Medicine.

Local CPM legislator and minister for urban development and municipal affairs Ashoke Bhattacharya will hold a meeting here tomorrow with senior health officials, local administration and the civic authorities to review the situation.


New Delhi, Feb. 8: 
China today expressed concern over India’s decision to grant refugee status to Karmapa Urgyen Trinley Dorjee who fled from a Tibet monastery last year and sought shelter in Dharamsala.

Dorjee, officially recognised as the Karmapa by Beijing, can be a big source of embarassment for China. A few days ago, the country’s foreign ministry spokesman had expressed hope that Delhi would not do anything on the issue that might affect bilateral ties.

During a closed-door meeting with their Indian counterparts today, Chinese officials asked if granting refugee status to the Karmapa meant a shift in the policy on Tibet.

India said there was no change in its Tibet policy and that it would not encourage any activities to embarrass the leadership in Beijing.

In turn, it raised the issue of transfer of missile and nuclear technology to Pakistan and expressed concern over the close military links between Beijing and Islamabad, a policy Delhi sees as directed against itself.

The India-China security dialogue held in South Block this afternoon was the second time the two sides met to discuss their concerns in detail and with candour. The first round was held in March last year in Beijing.

The Indian delegation was led by the additional secretary in the ministry of external affairs, T.C.A. Rangachari, and the Chinese side was headed by assistant foreign minister Wang Yi.

The security dialogue provides a forum to thrash out contentious issues and ensure that neither side has any misgivings about the other.

“The talks were very useful and helped in clarifying each other’s position on a number of issues,” foreign ministry spokesman R.S. Jassal said. He added that both sides agreed that “there is mutuality of interest in carrying forward the dialogue for building trust and confidence.”

Jassal admitted the Karmapa issue was raised by the Chinese side but played it down saying: “It was briefly touched upon. The Chinese delegation wanted to know whether Dorjee has been given Tibetan refugee status. We said yes, he has been.”

India raised the question of military ties between Beijing and Islamabad during the security dialogue and also later when the Chinese delegation called on foreign secretary Lalit Mansingh.

Officials argued that since any military hardware or technology acquired by Pakistan is directed only towards Delhi, the policy being pursued by Beijing was seen as anti-India and an encouragement to the military regime in Islamabad.

The Chinese side repeated its well-known stand that the military links were not directed against any third country and a “strong and powerful “ nation like India should not be unduly worried.

Though not entirely satisfied with the response, South Block officials are happy the two sides are sharing each other’s concerns regularly and hope this may lead to a situation where neither will pursue a policy which hurts the other’s interest.

The differences between the two sides notwithstanding, India and China identified several security issues where they had a common interest and approach.

These include the United States’ proposed National Missile Defence (NMD) which, both sides feel, may have a cascading effect in different parts of the world, particularly South Asia, and lead to a new arms race.


Jairampur Colliery (Dhanbad), Feb. 8: 
Soon after the rescue of 41-year-old Saleem Ansari, the Bharat Coking Coal Limited rescue team fished out three more bodies from Bagdigi mine.

The bodies were identified as those of Chotu Mian, Chandradeo Harijan and Brij Mohan Singh.

BCCL sources said that soon after the water-level started receding after midnight, a rescue team led by Sri Prakash, the general manager (operations) of the company’s Bhowra region, resumed search operations in the area where the trapped workers are believed to have been working at the time of the incident.

“I was on a rescue mission along with R.P. Singh, Ramdeo Mistri, Ram Swaroop Paswan and other members. It was around 5.30 in the morning. We started inspection of the inundated galleries, which had dried up by then,” said Sri Prakash.

“As we reached Level-I, we could hear a moaning voice like someone writhing in pain. Initially, I thought it could be someone in our team who might have been hurt. Soon we realised the voice was not from among us. Someone was calling for help,” he added.

“We headed towards the voice, which was coming from a high-rise. To our surprise, there lay a worker alive and very much in his senses. We swung into action. ‘Sahab, humko bacha leejiye (Sahib, save us),’ the worker was moaning,” the rescue team leader said.

The team soon identified Saleem Ansari, who asked them what day it was. “I told him it was Monday, with the intention of not giving him a shock. He then recognised me. ‘Please do not leave me here. Take me with you,’ he said,” Sri Prakash added.

Medical aid was rushed and Ansari was soon brought to the surface. After initial first aid, he was first taken to the Lodna hospital and then shifted to the Central hospital of the BCCL at Jagjiwan Nagar.

The doctors attending on Ansari at the hospital’s intensive care unit described his condition as “stable”. “He is fine and recovering,” said Prakash Chandra Gupta, a doctor at the hospital.

“He was suffering from dehydration and had sustained minor bruises. The only thing that kept him alive was that he drank a lot of water,” said P.C. Padhi, a doctor who attended on Ansari inside the mine.

After Ansari was rescued, the team searched the whole of Level-I but found no trace of life. However, when the team went to the seventh seam, three more bodies were recovered, taking the total number of bodies recovered to four.

BCCL sources said that while Chotu Mian’s body was identified through the payslip in his pocket. The other bodies were identified with the help of the cap-lamp batteries tied to their waist.

The post-mortem report said Brij Mohan Singh died of electrocution. BCCL sources said there were at least three “SDL machines” and two “tiger-trolley machines” working at the time of the accident, which consume 11,000 watts. The workers could have been electrocuted when the electricity wires came into contact with the water.

Ansari’s rescue has rekindled hopes for survival of some more of those trapped. “It is indeed a miracle. We are still hopeful of the recovery of more coal workers once the water-level recedes further,” Sri Prakash said.

In a late night development, meanwhile, a member of the rescue team, Harbans Yadav, emerged from the mine to say that more noises were coming from another high-rise a little further from where Ansari was rescued. While additional rescue teams have rushed into the mine, authorities are waiting for the water level to recede by 50 feet.


Ahmedabad, Feb. 8: 
The houses are quiet, the discotheques empty. You won’t spot shiny BMWs cruising down CG Road here with stereos blaring, or laughing youths walking gaily. Overnight, this bustling commercial town seems to have changed, metamorphosed into a brooding, silent city. This is the new Ahmedabad, more a spiritual capital than a commercial hub.

Take the case of 20-year-old Purnima Trivedi. She is doing her Masters in English literature. She was fond of jeans, colourful tops, and comfortable sneakers. She also liked Shakespeare. But in the two weeks since the quake, she has changed into a different woman, one who wears spotless white churidar-kurtas, and goes about carrying a copy of Sri Aurobindo’s works. These days, haunted by her fear of the unknown, she has become a salesgirl of the soul, knocking on her neighbours’ doors and urging them to join the evening bhajan.

Maybe that will keep earthquakes away.

Purnima is not alone. The pool parlours may be empty, but the churches, the temples and the mosques are all full. “We have never seen so many youngsters come for namaaz,” says Haji Abdulbhai Suleiman Khan. “Everyone is so afraid of what might happen again.” There are more Haj pilgrims from Ahmedabad this year than ever before.

Says Ramdas Purohit of the famous Hanuman temple in the city’s cantonment area: “People have lost faith in everything, even themselves. I have never seen such huge crowds in this temple in the 35 years of my service here.” Come evening and loudspeakers boom bhajans in most colonies and people come in droves to sit in silence and pray.

Says Brahmacharini Tapasya Dasa of the Atma Shakti Kendra: “Since the earthquake, close to 500 people attended these mass prayers sessions daily. People have suddenly turned very religious.”

She blames the people for the earthquake, and they take it meekly, without a protest. “There is a cosmic reason in everything God does,” says the Brahmacharini. “The quake is nature’s revolt against man’s attitude towards nature and fellow human beings. It is time to contemplate and pray.”

Hundreds gathered to hear her speak, clap loudly. They will contemplate and pray — anything to avoid another earthquake.

In Vasana, a colony badly affected by the quake, people are offering the Gods more coconuts. Maybe that would cast off the evil spell. Here, you will find cracked coconuts at the crossroads. After dusk, you will see the houses lined with bright diyas.

“I have been offering Ganga jal to Mother Earth every day,” says 45-year-old Mala Goyal. “Mother Earth has to be appeased. She is very angry.”

You will find the same determination in 12-year-old Jignesh Vyas who wants to be a scientist one day. “From now on I will go to a temple every day. Mummy says we can’t afford to have another earthquake.”


New Delhi, Feb. 8: 
Amid reports that Sangh parivar outfits are “communalising” distribution of relief materials for quake victims in Gujarat, a delegation of former Prime Ministers V.P. Singh and I.K. Gujral, CPM general secretary Harkishen Singh Surjeet and CPI leader Atul K. Anjan today called on Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and sought his intervention in the matter.

Even as these leaders expressed concern at the Gujarat government’s “failure” in distributing relief, the CPM slammed the VHP, the Bajrang Dal and the RSS activists for “hijacking” food and other materials to make it appear that these were organised by the Sangh parivar.

The CPM leader said the issue would be taken up at the next all-party meeting on the quake.

Referring to media reports, he said VHP activists demanded that the victims chant “Jai Shri Ram” if they wanted food. CPM central committee member Yoginder Sharma alleged that victims belonging to a minority community and Dalits were denied food.

Though the Prime Minister’s visitors did not specifically discuss the “communalisation” of distribution of relief material, they brought to Vajpayee’s attention the “total failure” of the state government.

Anjan said the Prime Minister initially said that some of the media reports were exaggerated, but the team brought to his notice incidents of incompetence and lack of concern on the part of the state government. Vajpayee, Anjan added, promised to look into the complaints.

Advani backs Keshubhai

L.K. Advani today ruled out replacement of Gujarat chief minister Keshubhai Patel in the wake of allegations of mismanagement of rescue and relief operations after the killer earth quake in the state.

Both the Centre and the party were satisfied with the Patel government, Advani, who arrived here on a two-day tour, said.


Ahmedabad, Feb. 8: 
A series of natural calamities that hit the state over the past three years has prompted the state government to introduce a disaster management course at the university level. The new course is expected to equip Gujarat with expertise in disaster management, which will help the state tackle natural calamities.

The state government had convened a meeting of vice chancellors of all Gujarat universities on Wednesday. They decided to introduce the new course at the graduate and post graduate levels from the next academic session, minister for higher and technical education Bharat Barot said. An experts’ committee will be constituted to prepare the syllabus for the course, he added.

The Maharaja Sayaji University of Vadodara became the first university in the country to have introduced a course in disaster management from the previous academic year. About 30 students are pursuing the diploma course in the Geography department of the university.

Barot said he had asked the vice chancellors of Gujarat University, Saurashtra University, and South Gujarat University to procure the prospectus for the course from Sayaji University.

The Gujarat Disaster Management Authority, under the chairmanship of chief minister Keshubhai Patel, was also constituted today to streamline relief, resettlement and reconstruction work during natural calamities.

The authority will function as an autonomous charitable institution under the Society Registration Act and ensure proper utilisation of funds received as grants and loans from the Centre and financial institutions.

Industry minister Suresh Mehta, finance and revenue minister Vajubhai Vala, the chief secretary (finance), additional chief secretary (general administration), principal secretaries of urban development and roads and buildings and the relief commissioner will be members of the authority.

Additional chief secretary (revenue) C. Koshi said the task force set up by the state to work out a scheme for the rehabilitation of the quake-affected people is expected to complete deliberations.

The task force, headed by senior IAS officer K.V. Bhanujan, is giving final touches to the policy draft on the rehabilitation of the quake victims. The scheme is expected to be announced after February 10.


New Delhi, Feb. 8: 
After a brief respite, Sonia Gandhi seems besieged on two fronts — West Bengal and Tamil Nadu. In Bengal, she faces the prospect of a split in the party, and in Tamil Nadu, pressure is mounting on the leadership to sever ties with Jayalalitha after the pro-LTTE PMK joined the ADMK alliance.

Sonia, however, seems reconciled to the prospect of a split in the party in Bengal with at least a dozen MLAs walking out in protest against the leadership’s failure to sew together a mahajot with Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamul Congress. The leadership is, however, trying hard to prevent veteran leader A.B.A. Ghani Khan Chowdhury from joining the rebel camp.

WBPCC chief Pranab Mukherjee, who is camping in Delhi, declined to comment on the 19 party MLAs’ plea to Sonia for a mahajot with Trinamul, saying it was a communication between party MLAs and the AICC chief. The political developments in Tamil Nadu are also linked with Pranab as he was sent to Chennai to hold alliance talks with Jaya.

A senior Congress functionary handling Bengal party affairs today admitted that many of these party MLAs were in touch with the Trinamul and that they were all in favour of a mahajot. He described the rumblings in WBPCC as “low-intensity pre-polls tremors”. He, however, made it clear that the Congress leadership will not go back on its stated policy of not entering into any “direct or indirect” tie-up with the BJP.

Sonia’s aides said efforts were on to work out some informal arrangement with the Trinamul but pro-mahajot MLAs said it was “too little, too late”.

With the Assembly polls drawing near, the Congress high command is getting jittery over the large-scale exodus from the party. The leadership is also afraid that if dissident leaders Jainul Abedin and Chowdhury Abdul Kareem join the Trinamul, there would be a vast erosion in its Muslim vote base.

The situation is Tamil Nadu is also giving sleepless nights to the Congress top brass. After Jaya welcomed the PMK into the ADMK front, there is a growing feeling in the Tamil Nadu Congress that the party should sever ties with Jayalalitha and start a third front to “teach Jaya a lesson”.

In TNCC’s scheme of things, the third front would consist of the Congress, Tamil Maanila Congress, Left parties and the Muslim League.

But many senior leaders have rubbished the idea on the ground that it is not a practical solution. An AICC general secretary pointed out that in terms of votes, the third front would not be able to match up to either the Jaya-led front or the coalition spearheaded by the DMK. He said the leadership was reluctant to face Tamil Nadu Assembly polls without the support of Dravidian parties.


Calcutta, Feb. 8: 
The Left Front will launch its election campaign at a rally on March 18 at the Brigade Parade Grounds.

The Front will finalise its list of candidates for the coming Assembly polls at a meeting on February 25 and will publicise the list the same day. The Front’s will also publish its election manifesto that day. The CPM’s state committee will meet that day, before the Front meeting, to ratify the candidate list.

These decisions were taken at a specially convened meeting at the CPM headquarters on Alimuddin Street this morning, presided over by Front chairman and CPM politburo member Sailen Dasgupta. Apart from CPM state secretary Anil Biswas and politburo member Biman Bose, state secretaries of the Forward Bloc and the CPI, Ashoke Ghosh and Manju Kumar Majumdar, respectively, and RSP state secretariat member Sunil Sengupta attended the meeting.

Bose said the Left Front constituents will submit their respective list of candidates by February 18. Another meeting of the Front may be held before February 25 to discuss the list of candidates.

It had been decided that those who had won from a particular seat in the 1996 polls would be nominated from those constituencies this time also, said Bose, though in some case the constituencies may be changed. “There can be no absolute ban on shifting of constituencies,” said the politburo member, adding that “the CPM will finalise its own list of candidates by February 10”.

Front sources said that the issue of seat-sharing was addressed at today’s meeting, with the CPI seeking to contest 14 seats, instead of the 12 it had in 1996. That year, the party had won six seats. The RSP and the Forward Bloc, however, agreed to contest the same number of seats it did in 1996. The Forward Bloc had contested 34 seats and won 22, while the RSP had contested 23 seats and won 18 in the last Assembly polls. The CPM had fielded candidates in 203 seats.

The Front has also received letters seeking electoral alliances from the Santosh Rana faction of CPI(ML), Laloo Prasad Yadav’s Rashtriya Janata Dal and the two Janata Dal groups led by H.D. Deve Gowda and Chandra Sekhar. “We will have to discuss with them on this score,” Bose said.


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