Girl goes missing in mansion robbery
Team finds signs of viral epidemic in panic-stric
Stiff dose to cure growth gloom
Go-slow on Balco selloff
Murder in city school
Brown and booze shouldn’t mix
Calcutta Weather

 
 
GIRL GOES MISSING IN MANSION ROBBERY 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Feb. 23: 
In a smooth daylight strike, armed hoodlums today strode into a mansion on Harish Mukherjee road, gagged and tied up some inmates, looted gold ornaments and allegedly made off with a 20-year girl.

The missing girl, Sanjukta Basu Roy, is the grand-daughter of Kalyan Ghosh Dastidar at whose pre-independence era mansion the robbers struck. Police suspect the girl — a school dropout— could have had a hand in the incident.

Kalyan’s daughter-in-law Anita, who was present at the time of the strike, has claimed she is related to chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee. But a spokesman for the chief minister’s family said they could not recall having Ghosh Dastidars for relatives.

The incident occurred around 2:30 pm at Gnan Ghosh Dastidar Bhavan, barely 10 yards from a traffic junction manned by police. Kalyan, 83, wife Meera, Anita and her children, Sayan and Amrita, live in the house.

Anita said the sequence of events began after her daughter left for tuition around 2 pm. Half-an-hour later, Sanjukta — an infrequent visitor — showed up without notice. Kalyan let her in, and went back to his room to watch television with his wife.

Fifteen minutes on, six thugs, armed with choppers and revolvers, walked into Kalyan’s room, a gagged and bound Sanjukta in tow. They then asked the couple where the valuables were. When they kept mum, the youths — in their mid-20s — went to Anita’s room, where she was relaxing with her son.

“I saw three youths come up with Sanjukta, holding a gun to her head. They gagged us and tied our hands. Then they broke open the almirah and looted ornaments,” Anita said.

Police claim the thugs could not have entered the house — the door is intact, including the handles — without the connivance of an insider. They suspect the involvement of Sanjukta, who had not returned to her Bansdroni home till late tonight.

Joint commissioner of police Kiriti Sengupta said: “Sanjukta appears to be somewhat spoilt. According to reports, she may have become associated with a few unsavoury characters.” He added that the police were also probing a drugs angle.

   

 
 
TEAM FINDS SIGNS OF VIRAL EPIDEMIC IN PANIC-STRIC 
 
 
FROM PROBIR PRAMANIK
 
Siliguri, Feb. 23: 
As the mystery fever sweeping Siliguri sparked an exodus, a team of doctors from across the country sought to calm the residents by saying that the malaise is a “localised viral epidemic” that lasts between two to three weeks.

Four more people died this morning, taking the toll to 26. However, the government said that two people had died, both employees of Medinova nursing home where the first strains of the disease were noticed earlier this month.

A 15-member team from the World Health Organisation, National Institute of Virology, Pune, Institute of Communicable Diseases, New Delhi, Apollo hospital, Chennai and experts from Calcutta arrived this afternoon and met patients infected with the disease.

Municipal affairs minister Ashoke Bhattacharya said the medical team had told the administration that the disease was a “localised viral epidemic” that had been noticed earlier in Gujarat, Haryana and Andhra Pradesh. The malaise usually lasts between two to three weeks, the team claimed.

The team has suggested that the North Bengal Medical College and Hospital should, for the next few weeks, focus on treating patients affected with the contagious disease.

Even as the administration appealed to the people not to panic, conflicting reports emerged on the number of dead. North Bengal hospital sources said that four more people had succumbed this morning, while Bhattacharya insisted that two had died.

“Two persons, both employees of Medinova nursing home, died at the North Bengal Medical College and Hospital. The victims were Dipu De (32), a resident of Shastri Nagar, and Asha Das (30) of Ram Krishna Nagar,” the minister said. Refuting reports of two other deaths attributed to the killer disease, Bhattacharya said: “One Subir Bhattacharya (30), a resident of Milan Pally, died of hypertension. Another patient, Rita Bhattacharya (30), was suffering from bronco-pneumonia and not from the mystery disease.”

With the government still clueless on how to control the epidemic, panic-stricken residents have begun fleeing.

Hundreds of outstation students at the medical college and North Bengal University have vacated their hostels and are heading home. Train and bus ticket counters were flooded with people desperate to leave the town.

“Most south Bengal-bound buses and trains are booked for the next couple of days as people are rushing home. They are also willing to hire trucks and other vehicles to get out of Siliguri,” said Raj Basu of Help Tourism.

Schools here will remain closed for the next four days to allow non-government organisations to disinfect their premises.

The disease appears to have spread beyond Siliguri’s borders and spilled over into the neighbouring Uttar Dinajpur district.

According to the assistant chief medical officer of health, five people have died of the disease there. Four deaths have been reported from Chopra and one from Raigunj.

The government is now trying to ascertain the source of the mystery malaise. The second phase started when one Ramkrishna Pal was admitted with symptoms at Medinova nursing home. The resident medical officer, along with 12 other employees, apparently contracted the disease from Pal.

The government has come in for criticism for its tardy response in combating the disease.

Officials in Calcutta pointed out that though the first team of doctors, that visited Siliguri on February 5, had recommended that experts from the Pune virology institute or even the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta, USA, be summoned, no urgency was shown.

Hospitals in Calcutta appeared confused over whether they should admit patients from Siliguri. The authorities at one hospital said they would not risk the safety of other patients.

The only known patient, a senior cardiologist from North Bengal Medical College, who is being treated in Calcutta with similar symptoms, continues to be critical and on respiratory support three days after he was admitted.

   

 
 
STIFF DOSE TO CURE GROWTH GLOOM 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Feb. 23: 
This time it’s a triple whammy: industry has trundled into the slow lane, foodgrain production has slumped 4.7 per cent, and inflation has raised its hydra head once again.

The upshot: the economy is sputtering with growth down to 6 per cent from 6.4 per cent a year ago.

The Economic Survey for 2000-01, which was presented by finance minister Yashwant Sinha in the Lok Sabha today, paints a pretty sordid picture with industrial growth decelerating to 5.7 per cent in the first nine months of 2000 from 6.5 per cent in the year-ago period, foodgrain production tumbling to 199 million tonnes from 208.9 million tonnes, and inflation running at 8.2 per cent against 6.5 per cent a year ago.

To top it all, growth in the organised sector employment has shrunk from 1.44 per cent in 1991 to a sliver of 0.04 per cent in 1999.

Bite the bullet

But there’s hope yet, says the Survey, and advises the government to bite the bullet. It has set out a tough agenda that calls for aggressive privatisation, intensive reforms of labour laws, sharp downsizing of the government, widening of the tax net, a clampdown on subsidies, and dereservation of the items that have been earmarked for the small-scale sector.

It also sought drastic measures in the upcoming budget to cut fiscal deficit, hasten reforms, widen the scope of service tax, phase out tax exemptions, and bring down import tariffs to Asian levels.

The Survey also wanted the government to bring prices of fertilisers and natural gas at par with international prices.

According to the Survey, many of the ills of the economy can be cured if all public sector units producing private goods are sold to the public. Governments, the Survey says, with their elaborate bureaucratic structures, multiple layers of accountability and complex cross-checks, are unsuited to the demands of commercial production in a competitive, fast-growing economy. Privatisation will allow government’s capital expenditure to be allocated to public goods and basic infrastructure.

“Identification of the public sector with state monopoly needs to be replaced by a public sector that is owned by the public,” it said, adding that shares of newly-formed companies could be sold to the public while retaining a majority only in those companies that produce defence systems.

Stressing the need to reduce the high 8-10 per cent real interest rates to reverse the industrial slowdown, the survey hints at lowering of interest rates on small savings by benchmarking them against equivalent market instruments.

Although direct tax collections had been buoyant, there were some shortfalls expected in the indirect tax collections due to slowdown in industrial growth and negative growth rate in non-oil imports.

Although major industries of Gujarat had fortunately escaped the worst effects of the earthquake, the impact of dislocation on the growth process could not be ignored, the Survey said.

It said power and labour sector reforms, the introduction of bankruptcy law to release the locked up capital in sick industries and changes in Urban Land Ceiling Act were other measures needed to enable organised industry to move out of capital intensive to labour-intensive manufacturing as in China to generate new employment.

The Survey says the key problem affecting the economy is the persistence of high fiscal deficit at both the Central and state levels. There is need to bring down the overall Centre and states gross fiscal deficit of 10 per cent of GDP.

Advice for Mamata

The Survey had a word of advice for railway minister Mamata Banerjee who presents her second budget on Monday. It said the railways should try and regain its share of bulk traffic, which had gradually shifted in favour of roads, through tariff rationalisation and suggested the creation of a ‘Rail Tariff Authority’ along the lines of the telecom watchdog which “should have the mandate to fix tariffs on a rational basis.”

Meanwhile, industry and economists expressed concern over the slowdown and expressed the hope that the budget would provide the growth impulses to jump-start the flagging economy.

Leading economists today expressed serious concern over the slowdown of the economy and said the Centre would require a ‘big change’ to push the medium term economic growth to nine per cent in the next five years, as desired by Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee.

   

 
 
GO-SLOW ON BALCO SELLOFF 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Feb. 23: 
The government today refused to commit whether it would complete the sale of Bharat Aluminium Company Ltd to Sterlite Industries over the weekend. At the same time, it stuck to its guns, saying the deal was “completely transparent and above board”.

Disinvestment minister Arun Shourie hurriedly called a news conference on the Parliament premises after the Opposition brought the Lok Sabha to a halt over the selloff issue. “I will not give any commitment (on signing the deal),” Shourie told reporters.

The ambivalence seems to be a concession to not only the combined Opposition, but also key NDA constituents such as the Telugu Desam and the Trinamul Congress which have criticised the divestment.

Earlier, Shourie had made it clear that the selloff would be wrapped up by Monday and the government would get the estimated Rs 551.5 crore from the sale by the end of the financial year on March 31.

The government will now also have to reckon with a public interest litigation challenging the sale that was admitted in Delhi High Court today. Since the issue is sub judice, it might not be able to go ahead with the sale till the court gives a clearance.

The government’s main worry though is its two troublesome allies — Trinamul and TDP. Demanding transparency, Trinamul MP Sudeep Bandyopadhyay alleged the deal was “finalised in just seven days”.

To pacify the allies, Shourie convened a meeting of NDA partners today. He said he talked to Desam MP Yerran Naidu. But sources said the minister also talked to Desam chief Chandrababu Naidu to win over his party.

The Congress is set to exploit the differences within the NDA. The party today announced its decision to serve a notice for a discussion under rule 184 — that allows voting in the Lok Sabha — on the Balco issue. This, the Congress hopes, will expose the cracks within the coalition.

   

 
 
MURDER IN CITY SCHOOL 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Feb. 23: 
An employee at a school in Behala was shot dead by unidentified assailants this afternoon. Golok Sen Roy, 50, a clerk of Barisha High School, was also an influential local CPI functionary.

A group of six armed men walked into the school when students were appearing for their final examinations.

They shot Roy from point-blank range on the first-floor corridor.

The assailants then scaled the rear wall of the school, and hurled half-a-dozen bombs.

Later in the evening, a teacher of the school, Dwijen Jotedar, was arrested, additional police superintendent Gyanwant Singh said.

   

 
 
BROWN AND BOOZE SHOULDN’T MIX 
 
 
FROM K.P. NAYAR
 
Washington, Feb. 23: 
There is bad news for Indians — and other Asians — who like to drink.

A path-breaking study by the Harvard School of Public Health has revealed that while white people and Caucasians have genes which make alcohol beneficial to them, people of Asian and African origin run all the risks of consuming liquor.

The study, published in the latest issue of the New England Journal of Medicine, however, has some bright sides for Indians who imbibe.

The research has once again shown that moderate drinking is good for everyone. In addition, men, notwithstanding their race, face a lower risk of heart attacks if they drink every day in moderation. So do women who have passed menopause.

The tragedy for those liquor-loving Asians and Africans, though, is that unlike whites and Caucasians who have genes which metabolise alcohol slowly, they inherit genes that act on liquor quickly.

The researchers have, however, been careful to warn that irrespective of the genetic composition of people, their study should not be construed as an encouragement to people to consume alcohol.

Lisa Hines, lead author of the article in the medical journal, said in a press release issued by the Harvard School of Public Health yesterday: “The study results support that it is the alcohol in alcoholic beverages that is responsible for the reduction in risk of heart disease, not other ingredients in alcoholic beverages or lifestyle factors associated with alcohol consumption.”

Eric Topol, head of cardiology at the Clinic Foundation in Cleveland, also warned that people should not drink just to improve their cholesterol readings based on such research. “Do it through proper diet, exercise and weight reduction,” he advised.

The study was based on 396 persons who had suffered heart attacks and 770 who had not. In addition, it conducted tests on 325 women who had passed menopause.

The research focused on one gene in the human body which produces enzymes known as alcohol dehydrogenase which metabolises liquor. One variation of the gene breaks down alcohol quickly, the other slowly. The slow genes result in higher levels of HDL cholesterol, which doctors refer to as “good” cholesterol. The gene is inherited, one copy from each parent.

One in 16 white people tested for this research showed that they had two copies of the slow-acting gene: it took them two-and-a-half times longer to break down alcohol than those with either two copies of the fast-acting gene or one each of the slow and fast one. The second category of people were mostly Asians and Africans.

Those with the slow genes who were examined for the study had, at least, one drink a day. Yet, they ran an 85-per-cent lower risk of heart attack than those with two fast genes.

After making allowances for other factors such as smoking, obesity and a family history of heart problems, the study found that those with fast genes still had a 35-per-cent higher risk of heart attacks than the other group.

Several experts in the US said the significance of the study was that in future it could help doctors make recommendations to people based on their genetic composition.

   

 
 
CALCUTTA WEATHER 
 
 
 
 

Temperature

Maximum:31.5°C (+1)
Minimum: 18.5°C (+2)

Rainfall

Nil

Relative humidity

Maximum: 90%,
Minimum: 36%

Today

Mainly clear sky. Minimum temperature likely to be around 20°C.
Sunrise: 6.07 am
Sunset: 5.32 pm
   
 

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