Joshi tests waters for college fee hike
Bhat escapes grenade plot
Row over officer sack
Patna court sees publicity plan in euthanasia plea
Sonia team to take leaf out of Blair book
Quorum bid
Saifuddin in symbol wait
Salt Lake shock
Police find no proof against minister son
WHO help to fight disease

 
 
JOSHI TESTS WATERS FOR COLLEGE FEE HIKE 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Feb. 22: 
Human resources development minister Murli Manohar Joshi today said a hike in college and university fees is essential if the higher education system is to withstand the increasing financial pressures that are telling on the quality of these institutions.

“I request all political parties to consider an increase in fee — this has become a must,” Joshi said during a discussion in the Lok Sabha on the repeal of the 1904 Indian Universities Act.

Some MPs voiced fears that an increase in fees would hit students who are not financially well-off.

The minister stressed that poor students will be cushi- oned against the impact of a fee hike.

“The government will try to arrange soft loans for students who are not able to meet the additional expense. There will also be enough freeships to ease the financial stress,” he said.

Joshi, however, acknowledged that these arrangements will not be free from hitches. He conceded that students pursuing courses which are not job-friendly will not find it easy to repay the loans.

“Unfortunately, we do not have any trusts or foundations to help such students. We should try to create such a mechanism,” the minister said.

Grabbing the opportunity to broach a subject that has the double potential of sparking student unrest and political furore, Joshi sought to argue his case for a substantive hike in the existing structure that has remained stagnant for more than a decade.

“If students can pay Rs 50 or 100 to see films twice a month, they can also shell out Rs 50 for tuition fees,” he said.

Many higher education institutions, he pointed out, continue to charge a paltry Rs 12 as tuition fees even as the cost of everything else — from journals to hostel food has multiplied a hundred times.

The cost of journals, he pointed out, has gone up from Rs 50 to Rs 1,500.

“When I was a student, the tuition fee was Rs 12 and teachers were drawing a salary of Rs 250. Now the students are still paying Rs 12 while the teachers are getting Rs 12,000,” Joshi said.

Joshi argued that parents who have been paying anything between Rs 2,000 and Rs 1 lakh for school education of their children can afford to pay more than Rs 12 for higher education.

Raising higher education fees has been on the agenda of every government, barring the United Front — that has come to power in the post-liberalisation era.

Former human resources minister Madhavrao Scindia wanted to rationalise fees, but finally backed out in the face of resistance from Opposition parties. The United Front government stayed away from the controversy.

The Vajpayee government, however, has re-opened the issue and Joshi’s colleagues say the minister is serious about removing the anomalies in the fee structure.

His statement in the Lok Sabha today made it clear he is keen to work out an all-party consensus on the issue.

“I want to seek the support of all political parties on such an important issue,” Joshi said.

   

 
 
BHAT ESCAPES GRENADE PLOT 
 
 
FROM MUKHTAR AHMAD
 
Srinagar, Feb. 22. 
Chairman of the separatist All-Party Hurriyat Conference Abdul Gani Bhat today escaped unhurt an attempt on his life during a visit to Tarzoo in northern Baramulla district.

“The timely detection of the bomb tied to my vehicle saved me and nine others,” Bhat said.

He had gone to Tarzoo village near Sopore to meet the family of Manzoor Ahmad who had died in the Hygam firing last week. He addressed a gathering there and got on his vehicle to return.

“As we were preparing to leave, the villagers shouted and told us to get off as a bomb was tied to my vehicle. We immediately jumped out,” Bhat said.

“My security guard found a live hand grenade tied to the vehicle. He handed it over to the police,” the Hurriyat chief said.

Police confirmed the recovery of the grenade and blamed militants for the attempted attack.

Bhat linked the attempt on his life to the ceasefire. In a veiled reference to foreign militants bent on derailing the truce, he said: “They wanted a big catch in honour of the ceasefire, but it was unfortunate for them.”

The Hurriyat chief said the ceasefire extension must be immediately followed by talks between New Delhi and Islamabad. “Talks must begin between the Indian government and Kashmiris and between the Pakistan and Kashmir leadership,” he said.

“The situation is grave and there is no alternative for India, Pakistan and Kashmiris but to talk,” he added.

Police driver killed

Baramulla town is tense following the killing of a Sikh police driver in the town this afternoon. Police said militants opened fire on the vehicle of the deputy police superintendent, killing his driver Paramjeet Singh on the spot.

As news of the killing spread, angry Sikhs came out in Khawaja Bagh locality and shouted slogans against the administration. Police later handed over the body to Singh’s relatives.

But Sikhs, who had earlier this month threatened to migrate following the killing of six members of the community at Mehjoor Nagar in the city, refused to cremate the body. Officials are camping in the locality.

   

 
 
ROW OVER OFFICER SACK 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Patna, Feb. 22: 
The unceremonious ouster of an excise commissioner within 70 days of his appointment may raise a storm in the Bihar Assembly tomorrow.

S.K. Sinha had ordered a vigilance probe into “grave irregularities in the excise department” arising out of two contradictory orders on renewal of contractors’ licences by state excise minister Shivanand Tiwari. He was allegedly shunted out for ordering the inquiry.

BJP leader Sushil Modi released a 12-page document alleging the existence of “two parallel circulars in the state excise department contradicting each other, which had helped a caucus to fleece money from contractors”.

The document alleged that Tiwari issued a circular in August 2000 saying that contractors who had defaulted on sales tax payment could renew their licences. But a month later, he issued another one saying that licences of defaulters would not be renewed.

Several contractors took advantage of the first circular and had their licences renewed. But this January, two contractors were snubbed on the basis of the second order. They then appealed to Sinha, who allegedly renewed their licences.

When Tiwari got to know of the controversy, he ordered the matter be probed within a week. Sinha, too, ordered a vigilance department probe, contending that politicians were involved in the irregularities. Enraged at his decision, Tiwari shunted him out.

Excise department sources said Sinha’s decision to renew the contractors’ licences had led to a revenue loss of Rs 25 crore.

Modi today said the issue would be placed in the House for debate. “The BJP demands a CBI probe into the wheeling-dealing of the excise department in which the excise minister is involved,” the Bihar Opposition leader said. But Tiwari dubbed the accusations “nothing but dirty politics”.

The BJP is readying more papers to nail Tiwari. But the RJD shrugged off the matter, saying: “If Modi has papers, we too have papers to prove our innocence.”

   

 
 
PATNA COURT SEES PUBLICITY PLAN IN EUTHANASIA PLEA 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Patna, Feb. 22: 
Patna High Court today dismissed a petition for mercy-killing filed by relatives of Kanchan Devi, who has been in coma for the past one-and-a-half years.

The relatives had appealed to the high court as she was showing no sign of improvement ever since she slipped into a coma following complications.

Kanchan Devi’s lawyers had prayed for help from the state government so that she could be examined by a medical board which would help the court consider her family’s appeal for mercy-killing.

In an interim order passed earlier, the court had directed the state government to take full responsibility for the patient’s treatment. In response, the state government sent Kanchan Devi to Patna Medical College and Hospital.

The hospital authorities later sent her back home. They told her husband, Tarakeswar Chandravanshi — a tea-stall owner — to admit her to the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) in Delhi as the state hospital did not have the infrastructure to treat a patient like her.

The high court again took up the matter after Tarakeswar said it was not possible for him to take his wife to the AIIMS because he would not be able to afford the cost of treatment.

The argument continued for two days before the division bench of Chief Justice Ravi S. Dhawan and Justice S.K. Singh concluded today that the petitioners were after publicity and there was no merit in their appeal.

The court, however, stuck to its earlier order directing the state government to arrange for the woman’s treatment and, if necessary, to take the help of NGOs.

It also appeared to have accepted the contention of the doctors who deposed before the court that the patient needed dressing everyday and not treatment.

But an unhappy Tarakeswar blamed the court for not considering the plight of the patient and her relatives.

“We have got caught in a web of useless laws. The court saw the publicity aspect of the case but overlooked the trauma of the woman who is lying comatose for over one year. What will happen to her now?” he told reporters after the high court verdict.

His lawyers, however, said they had faith in the judiciary and would now appeal before the Supreme Court.

Some legal experts pointed out that if medicine fails to cure Kanchan Devi, there was indeed a legal remedy to the case as the apex court recognised the right to live with dignity.

   

 
 
SONIA TEAM TO TAKE LEAF OUT OF BLAIR BOOK 
 
 
FROM RASHEED KIDWAI
 
New Delhi, Feb. 22: 
A Congress delegation is going to the UK to pick up a few “guru mantras” on how Tony Blair’s New Labour dislodged the Tories after spending decades in the Opposition benches.

Congress MPs and leaders are getting increasingly restless after being out of power for many years. They are putting pressure on the leadership to repackage the party’s socio-economic agenda in such a way that it catches the imagination of the masses.

In the hope that the Labour experience can be replicated in India, Sonia Gandhi is sending K. Natwar Singh, Salman Khurshid and Anand Sharma to interact with the Labour think-tank and learn how they managed to edge out the Conservatives.

Natwar Singh is head of Congress’ foreign affairs department while Khurshid is chairman of AICC’s policy planning and coordination department. Sharma is party spokesman.

The team is leaving for London on Sunday. Natwar Singh and Khurshid will carry Sonia’s message to Blair and an invitation to the Labour members to attend AICC’s Bangalore plenary scheduled for March 17-18.

Natwar Singh has recently returned from a goodwill tour to Iraq to strengthen party-to-party relations with Saddam Hussein’s Bath Socialist Party.

A section of the Congress views Blair’s Labour as a “role model”. It admires how the young leadership transformed the party in a short span of time and gave it a taste of power. These Congress leaders feel their party is merely following the beaten path and becoming a prisoner of the past.

“There are too many has-beens in key party posts . Our programmes are jaded and lack punch. Since the days of Garibi Hatao, we have failed to come up with any catchy phrase,” a middle-rung Congress leader said.

Sensing the disquiet, Sonia has given a slogan, “New millennium, New Bharat, New Congress” for the Bangalore plenary. Sonia will complete three years in office on March 14 and three days later, she will inaugurate the 81st plenary.

While Sonia is working hard to project the party as an organisation for the young, old wounds continue to hound the Congress.

For instance, on the Babri Masjid demolition , the party continues to struggle to formulate a response. Party spokesman Jaipal Reddy today skirted the issue when asked to comment on former Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao’s claim that the then Uttar Pradesh government was responsible for the demolition.

   

 
 
QUORUM BID 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Feb. 22: 
Perturbed over the frequ ent lack of quorum in the Lok Sabha in post-lunch sessions, the parliamentary affairs ministry is believed to have proposed that ministers of state take two-hour turns in the House thrice a week.

If the suggestion is implemented, there may be about 20 ministers of state on roster duty on each of the five working days of Parliament as there are 60 ministers of state in the NDA government.

According to ministry sources, it was proposed that each minister of state should take up roster duty from 2 pm to 4 pm thrice a week.

   

 
 
SAIFUDDIN IN SYMBOL WAIT 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Calcutta, Feb. 22: 
It is uncertain whether a reserved election symbol will be allotted to the Party for Democratic Socialism floated by Saifuddin Chowdhury and Samir Putatunda before the ensuing Assembly elections.

The Election Commission rules say a party could seek a reserved symbol only if it bags at least 6 per cent of the total valid votes polled in an election or has a sizeable representation in the Assembly.

State chief electoral officer Sabyasachi Sen today said at Writers’ Buildings that PDS leaders have to obtain a registration certificate from the Election Commission before applying for a symbol.

“It is the prerogative of the commission to decide whether to allot or not any reserved symbol to a party which is yet to contest any election,” Sen said.

However, there are two such precedents. The commission had allotted symbols to the Rashtriya Janata Dal and the Trinamul Congress before they had contested any polls.

Trinamul had applied for a reserved symbol in 1998, claiming that the party was set up with a large number of grassroots Congress workers. It had submitted drawings of six preferred symbols and requested the Commission to allot any one of them. The commission then set up a special committee to decide on the issue.

Initially, it was not in favour of allotting a symbol to Trinamul. But the panel had to change its mind after arguments that the party, which was yet to contest any poll, had two MPs — Mamata Banerjee and Ajit Panja — in the dissolved Lok Sabha and a number of MLAs in its fold. Earlier, the Rastriya Janata Dal, led by former Bihar chief minister Laloo Prasad Yadav, was allotted a symbol on similar grounds.

The commission reluctantly allotted one of the six drawings — grass and flower — placed before it by the Trinamul. While selecting the symbol, the commission had closely considered the party’s name, which was stated in the application as “Grassroots Congress”, the English translation of Trinamul Congress.

In the case of Chowdhury’s party, there is no MP in the current Lok Sabha and only two MLAs in the Assembly which will be dissolved on Saturday. “It is the discretion of the Election Commission to decide whether the precedents will be accepted as a valid ground to offer a reserved symbol to Chowdhury’s new party.

Otherwise the party may have to contest Assembly elections with the available free symbols with the status of Independent,” Sen said.

   

 
 
SALT LAKE SHOCK 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Feb. 22: 
A 22-year-old university student was beaten unconscious in Salt Lake today by a couple who fled with her purse. Police said the incident occurred when S. Mukherjee, a student of Rabindra Bharati University, was on her way to the girls’ hostel at BL Block. The girl had got off a bus near Tank No. 9 when she saw the couple — the man in his thirties, in jeans and a T-shirt, and a young woman with a cellphone.

When Mukherjee asked them the way to the hostel, they told her they were going the same way. “Come with us,” they said. Relieved that she would not have to ask her way around in an unfamiliar place, she started walking with them.

Mukherjee was caught unawares when the two suddenly turned on her. As she slumped to the ground, they took out her purse and also tried to snatch her ornaments. But the sound of an approaching car scared them away. A passer-by later found the unconscious student. A complaint was filed with Bidhannagar police station.

   

 
 
POLICE FIND NO PROOF AGAINST MINISTER SON 
 
 
BY BASANT RAWAT
 
Ahmedabad, Feb. 22: 
The Rajkot police today said they have no evidence against Ketan Vajubhai Vala, a builder and the Gujarat finance minister’s son, against whom a criminal case was registered yesterday.

A resident of Race Course Park had filed a case against Ketan and three other builders after cracks appeared in flats in the housing complex during the earthquake.

Ashokbhai Druv lodged a complaint against the four “for cheating and using poor quality building material”.

But the police said “there is no documentary evidence” that the minister’s son was involved in the project. According to the police, Druv might have filed the complaint with “mala fide intention”.

Rajkot police commissioner Sudhir Sinha said two of the three buildings developed cracks but no occupants were injured. Sinha claimed that Ketan “has neither built a flat, nor has he sold them. His name does not figure in sale documents” and there is no evidence that the housing society was constructed by Ketan, he said.

The finance minister denied his son’s involvement in the project but accepted that two of the builders named are his son’s business partners.

Quake tips

Delhi High Court today asked the government to form a committee and seek suggestions from experts to tackle situations likely to be created by earthquakes.

   

 
 
WHO HELP TO FIGHT DISEASE 
 
 
OUR BUREAU
 
Calcutta, Feb. 22: 
The government has sought help from the World Health Organisation to tackle the mystery disease which has claimed two more lives even as panic gripped Siliguri following rumours that the malaise was a form of plague.

Residents scrambled to get hold of medical masks and antibiotics like tetracycline after word spread that plague had struck Siliguri. People refused to step out of their homes and those who did, wore masks.

A helpless government appealed to the people not to pay heed to rumours. “We appeal to all political parties, businessmen, doctors and NGOs to help the government tackle the outbreak. There is no need to panic as the outbreak is not a plague,” municipal affairs minister Ashoke Bhattacharya said.

The toll climbed to 21 as two more people succumbed last night at the Siliguri Sub-divisional Hospital. A.K. Maiti, a cardiologist from Siliguri who came down with the disease, has been put on ventilator in a Calcutta hospital.

The residents are not the only ones struck by terror. Doctors and paramedics are shying away from treating patients who are showing symptoms of the disease.

The government warned of stern action against doctors and health workers if they turned away patients. “The government will take action against doctors, nursing home managements as well as Siliguri Municipal Corporation workers if they abstain from work because of unnecessary panic,” Bhattacharya said.

The minister said the government had contacted a WHO team, which was in Calcutta today, and requested it to send a delegation to Siliguri. “We have contacted WHO which has asked its medical team stationed in Delhi to help the state,” he added.

Over 300 medical interns at North Bengal Medical College and Hospital, where most patients have been admitted, have begun leaving their hostels.

A dental intern, on her way home in Calcutta, said: “We are not sure what has led to this mysterious outbreak. Few of us would like to stay back in the hostels which are close to the wards where the patients are being treated.”

Doctors in Calcutta said there is still no substantive clue as to what is causing the deaths. A major hurdle in finding out the etymology of the infectious disease is the inability of the authorities to conduct autopsies on the dead. “The grieving relatives are not allowing doctors to do this,” health department officials said in Calcutta.

As the deaths are not police cases, the legal compulsion of conducting a post-mortem does not arise. “We cannot conduct autopsies without permission from the relatives of the dead,” an official explained.

   
 

FRONT PAGE / NATIONAL / EDITORIAL / BUSINESS / THE EAST / SPORTS
ABOUT US /FEEDBACK / ARCHIVE 
 
Maintained by Web Development Company