Siliguri samples sent to US centre
CPM picks new faces & Subhas
Cross-border quake panic in capital
Balco burial for Cong reforms
Wife torture Bill spooks men
Calcutta Weather

 
 
SILIGURI SAMPLES SENT TO US CENTRE 
 
 
FROM PROBIR PRAMANIK
 
Siliguri, Feb. 25: 
The state government today seized on the absence of fresh admission to hospitals to claim that the situation was improving in Siliguri after the outbreak of a mystery disease, but panic continued to drive people out of the town.

The government sent brain tissues and cerebro-spinal fluids of those infected with the killer disease to the Center for Disease Control in Atlanta, the foremost organisation in the world resear-ching outbreaks of infectious diseases. Samples were also sent to the National Institute of Virology, Pune, and the National Institute of Communicable Disease, New Delhi, state urban development and municipal affairs minister Ashoke Bhattacharya said.

For the first time since February 18, when the outbreak hit the headlines, no new patients were reported to have been admitted, though health officials said two persons died today, taking the toll to 29. But Bhattacharya said no deaths occurred today.

Confusion prevails over the mystery disease, but the death of Dr A.K. Maity yesterday at Calcutta Hospital, the only known case to have gone to Calcutta, was due to “encephalomyelitis with multi-system organ failure,” according to Dr Ashis Kumar, who had treated him. “The disease is not contagious. It does not spread through contact, or droplets in the air,” Dr Kumar said. “Doctors should not run away from Siliguri,” he said.

Bhattacharya warned “absconding” doctors and partymen. “Stern action will be taken agai-nst doctors and other health employees and party councillors will be showcaused,” he said. He add-ed that 15 schools where Madhya-mik examinations are scheduled tomorrow have been disinfected.

The government announced separate inquiries by health and police departments into the outbreak that was first noticed at Medinova nursing home. “Since February 18, all those who have fallen prey were connected to the nursing home in some way. We are locating all Medinova employees,” Bhattacharya said.

Health minister Partha De, who flew in with medical supplies in a chopper, was shown black flags by Trinamul Congress men.

Bhattacharya said there was no reason to panic. “Though 13 persons are being treated at the North Bengal Medical College and Hospital, there were no reports of any death or admission of new patients. The situation is improving,” he said.

However, Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr Saibal Banerjee said two patients suspected to have been infected with the mystery disease, 90-year-old Sapta Roy and Indra Biswas (23), died at the North Bengal Medical College and Hospital today. But Bhattacharya said while Roy died of “old-age”, Biswas’ death was due to “jaundice”.

   

 
 
CPM PICKS NEW FACES & SUBHAS 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Feb. 25: 
Staring at the toughest Assembly election in 24 years, the ruling Left Front today unveiled a list of candidates that seeks to accommodate dissidents and propel new faces into the House.

One of the big surprises of the 290-strong list, predictably dominated by Front overlord CPM with 208 seats, was the unparalleled decision to shed 42 sitting legislators — 35 of them from the CPM alone.

Among the dropped were four ministers, Shanti Ghatak, Proloy Talukdar (both CPM), Debabrata Bandyopadhyay (RSP) and Bhaktibhusan Mondal (Forward Bloc).

The list focuses on three objectives: create space for the upward mobility of young functionaries, prevent the dissidents from teaming up with axed rebel Saifuddin Chowdhury and correct the public perception of corruption in the organisation. It mirrored the CPM leadership’s tightrope walk to prevent one of its biggest headaches, Subhas Chakraborty, from doing a Samir Putatunda before the polls. Putatunda had walked out of the party to join Chowdhury’s new outfit.

Alimuddin Street accommodated six of the nine supporters Chakraborty had recommended for tickets but fielded him again in Belgachia East, rejecting his plea for Dum Dum, a safer constituency. The leadership reckons that Chakraborty’s supporters will not leave the party if they managed to win. Chakraborty said he would accept the list but added a rider: “I will take a final decision on entering the fray in a day or two.”

Another striking feature is the CPM’s decision to project as many as 70 new nominees, including athlete Jyotirmoyee Sikdar. Several new candidates will contest from South 24-Parganas, where Putatunda’s departure could make a dent.

Other Front partners together fielded 23 new candidates. “No party will dare field so many new faces in an election. We can do it because we are known for our capacity to experiment,” said Anil Biswas, state CPM secretary.

However, the move to pack such a large number of newcomers is being seen as an attempt to tighten the party’s grip on the government if the Front returns to power again.

The list also ended speculation that chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee will either shift to a safer constituency or contest from two seats simultaneously. Bhattacharjee will seek re-election from Jadavpur, considered a bastion for Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamul Congress.

Like Chakraborty, finance minister Asim Dasgupta and PWD minister Kshiti Goswami — who are facing daunting electoral battles — and all their Cabinet colleagues have been renominated for existing constituencies.

Satgachia, having lost much of its glory with the retirement of Jyoti Basu, got a new candidate in Gokul Bairagi, who used to manage the patriarch’s poll affairs.

   

 
 
CROSS-BORDER QUAKE PANIC IN CAPITAL 
 
 
OUR BUREAU
 
New Delhi, Feb. 25: 
Residents of Delhi as well as other parts of northern India were jolted out of their beds today as an earthquake rocked Central Asia.

The quake, measuring 6.7 on the Richter scale, brought back images of the month-old Gujarat disaster and sent people scurrying out of their homes in the capital at 7.52 am.

In East Delhi, supposed to be quake-prone, people rushed out of apartments and stayed outside for as long as an hour.

Till late tonight, there were no immediate reports of loss of life or damage to property. The quake’s epicentre was traced to the Afghanistan-Tajikistan border.

   

 
 
BALCO BURIAL FOR CONG REFORMS 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Feb. 25: 
Standing in Manmohan Singh’s shadow, Congress president Sonia Gandhi today buried the reforms he had pioneered and pilloried the Vajpayee government for selling profitable public sector units cheap.

Without naming Bharat Aluminium Company (Balco) — at the Centre of a storm after the government decided to sell a 51 per cent stake for Rs 551.5 crore — Sonia said: “The government is selling PSUs at arbitrary prices to private parties. They do not know how to run a government. Maladministration and corruption have become their religion.”

Sonia’s outburst came two days after the new Congress Working Committee met unofficially to discuss an economic introspection panel report. The party decided to tackle economic reforms on a political plane and oppose reforms in all sectors, barring power. The power sector is being exempt as the Congress-ruled states of Karnataka and Madhya Pradesh are keen on pushing ahead with the reforms.

The Assembly polls in four states are being seen as the immediate compulsion for the Congress stand and Sonia’s comments, made with Manmohan Singh right behind her on the dais at a kisan rally organised by the party.

Sonia’s onslaught coincided with a stepped-up offensive from the Congress government in Chhattisgarh, where one of Balco’s plants is located.

Chief minister Ajit Jogi today threatened to cut off water and power supply to the plant and alleged that “some functionaries in the Prime Minister’s Office are said to have received Rs 100 crore in kickbacks for the divestment deal”.

Shourie dares Jogi

The charge drew a scathing response from disinvestment minister Arun Shourie, who challenged Jogi to name any person who has received the bribe.

“I pledge that should Mr Jogi have the courage to do so, he will face the consequences in court,” Shourie added. Shourie said the chief minister’s allegation was “so ludicrous as to border on the idiotic”.

Shourie told PTI that the chairman of Sterlite Industries, which has been selected for the Balco stake, had met him on Friday. “Anil Agarwal (the chairman) told me that Balco had great prospects, particularly for generation of employment in Chattisgarh,” Shourie said, adding that this was his first meeting with the Sterlite chief.

Agarwal left for Britain soon after the meeting with Shourie.

   

 
 
WIFE TORTURE BILL SPOOKS MEN 
 
 
FROM MONOBINA GUPTA
 
New Delhi, Feb. 25: 
Male pressure groups are lobbying against the inclusion of a clause on mental torture in the proposed Bill against domestic violence, while women’s and lawyers’ organisations have dug in their heels and are seeking to put an end to both physical and mental aggression against women.

Men are not happy with the “expansive” definition of domestic violence in the Bill the government is planning to bring to protect women against physical and mental abuse. It is believed that the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government, too, initially found the definition a bit far-reaching.

But the National Commission for Women and the Lawyers’ Collective, that have presented draft Bills to the government, are insisting on expanding the scope of the Domestic Violence Bill. “The main question is what affects the mental peace of women?” asked Sonjoy Ghosh of the Lawyers’ Collective.

Men, uneasy with the “liberal” definition of violence that goes on in multiple forms within the four walls, are raising questions about the wisdom of reining in their “freedom of expression”.

During consultations on the Bill, male participants have frequently sought clarifications on the consequences of such a Bill. Many raised the question whether it will mean that a husband will have to think twice before passing casual remarks, some of which could be hurtful, at his wife at a meeting between lawyers and social activists in Jaipur.

The draft Bill drawn up by the Lawyers’ Collective states: “Verbal and mental abuse includes insults, ridicule, humiliation, name-calling especially with regard to women who do not have a child or particularly a male child.”

Does that mean a husband’s attempts to poke fun at his wife’s expense could be counted as mental abuse? Vibha Parthasarathy, chairperson of the National Commission for Women (NCW), thinks so. “Women are often humiliated in private and in front of outsiders by the male members of the family, and this is definitely mental harassment,” she stressed.

Members of the Society For Protection of Men have voiced fears that the Bill would wreck homes and spur divorces. “But this is not a law about marriage or divorce. It is to protect women and, in fact, give marriages that can survive a second chance,” protested Ghosh.

He pointed out that there is already a provision — Section 498(a) in the Indian Penal Code — which makes “physical and mental cruelty” against women a punishable offence. “But the Domestic Violence Bill will be a civil and not a criminal law and the difference will be significant,” he added.

Section 498(a) orders punishment and sentencing, but offers no security or compensation. The new Bill, on the other hand, will order physical protection of the woman, give her the right of residence and ensure financial compensation. “The man can no longer evict the woman from his house. And this will be a major change,” said Parthasarathy.

The draft Bill suggests that protection should be provided even after a single act of domestic violence. “The court shall not refuse protection on the basis that only a single act of domestic violence has been committed or a single threat has been made,” the lawyers’ draft says.

It will be the responsibility of the protection officer to ensure physical safety of the woman and ensure that she is able to retrieve all her belongings, it adds.

   

 
 
CALCUTTA WEATHER 
 
 
 
 

Temperature

Maximum: 34.6°C (+4)
Minimum: 23°C (+5)

Rainfall

Nil

Relative humidity

Max: 93%
Min: 36%

Today

Partly cloudy sky. Minimum temperature likely to be around 22°C.
Sunrise: 6.05 am
Sunset: 5.33 pm
   
 

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