Diagnosis: it’s a small world
Schoolboy’s brush with Bill
Death row verdict for Tripura youth
Manipur villages live in fear of Myanmar Army
Thiyam plans three new plays
Fall in ginger prices hits Orissa tribals
Rights panel takes up custody death
Dev clears the air on Assam Congress list
Postal staff in Shillong protest ‘risks’
Khasi spring festival begins

 
 
DIAGNOSIS: IT’S A SMALL WORLD 
 
 
BY KUNAL SENGUPTA
 
Calcutta, March 7: 
Question: What is common to rural Arkansas in the US, and the villages around Baruipur in West Bengal?

Answer: Both are plagued by a shortage of doctors as physicians both in the US and here are reluctant to work in villages.

At a lively interactive session at Raj Bhavan on Saturday afternoon on how the America India Foundation (AIF) could help NGOs improve the quality of life in rural West Bengal, former US president Bill Clinton realised that it is really a small world. Stressing the need for building up a health infrastructure in rural Bengal, Clinton recounted how as US president he, too, had faced the problem of doctors unwilling to serve in rural areas.

But he said he could overcome the problem to some extent by providing incentives to doctors for practising in villages. It was during his presidency, Clinton said, that a large number of clinics were set up in the countryside to provide the right infrastructure.

While Kaliprasad Pappu of CINI raised the issue of the lack of health infrastructure in rural areas, it was industrialist B.M. Khaitan, who attempted to provide a solution for it. If the tea industry could have done it in troubled Assam, he said, then there was no reason why it could not be done here.

Khaitan said the tea industry had provided employment to hundreds of doctors in remote tea gardens and there was no lack of medical facilities there. Similarly, industry could step forward and reach medicare to places where doctors now feared to tread.

Some NGOs even suggested that medical interns in the US could be sent to rural Bengal to work for some time as part of the university curriculum. But the issue was left open for further discussion.

Besides setting up an office in Calcutta, McKinsey chief Rajat Gupta asked the NGOs if it would help if the AIF set up an “Indian services corps” consisting of volunteers raised in the US. Biplab Halim of the Institute for the Motivation for Self Employment said that US volunteers should be focussed and sensitised on the Indian scenario before being sent down.

Tushar Kanjilal of the Sunderbans-based Tagore Society for Rural Development said Clinton was totally focussed on what was being stated by the NGOs like Ramakrishna Mission, Child in Need Institute and Bharat Sevasram Sangha. “I have been involved in Left politics for many years, but it was like talking to a friend. He even told me after the meeting to take care of my tigers,” Kanjilal said.

Halim said Clinton spoke of his involvement with Mohammad Yunus, who set up the Bangladesh Gramin Bank, and laid stress on micro-credit programmes. “What Clinton wanted us to do was evolve projects, which the AIF could help out with. He stressed that it should not be the other way round,” Halim said.

Also present in the gathering of about 75 people were industrialists S.K. Birla, Yogi Deveshwar and Harsh Neotia.

Later, Clinton said at a press conference at Marble Hall in Raj Bhavan that the brief trip to Calcutta was a beginning to “getting acquainted with eastern India”.

“We are looking down the road on how to solve the needs of the people of India,” Clinton said. “We have to see how much money we can raise to work in the field of healthcare, education, rural economy and micro-credit programmes. This is no one-shot effort; we will have to continue with this work in the years to come,” said Clinton.

Thanking NRIs Purnendu Chatterjee and Rajat Gupta, who accompanied him, for making his trip to Calcutta a reality, Clinton was grateful to the NGOs for giving him specific ideas on various projects that could be implemented in eastern India.

   

 
 
SCHOOLBOY’S BRUSH WITH BILL 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, March 7 : 
A schoolboy’s brushwork not only earned him a bearhug from the former President of the United States but also gave him a chance to pursue higher studies in visual arts there.

Somnil Saha, a Class VIII student of Don Bosco, Park Circus, had painted a portrait of Bill Clinton. He had gone over to Mother House the evening before and requested one of the Missionaries of Charity sisters to take the painting in and get Clinton to sign it.

“Where is the boy?” Clinton asked, on being given the portrait on Saturday. “Bring him in,” he told a member of his entourage.

Fortune smiled on Somnil as he was led through the strict security cordon. And so did Clinton, who signed the portrait and hugged the boy.

Somnil then said he wanted to do a course in visual arts in the US. Perhaps seeing promise in the youngster, Clinton asked one of his assistants to hand him a card with the address of his aide. He asked the boy to contact him later.

Standing outside Shishu Bhavan after the big meeting, the boy, who had started painting since he was two-and-a-half under the tutelage of “drawing sir” Gauranga Brahma, gushed: “I’ve seen him on TV so many times. I thought I’d draw his picture and try to get it autographed.”

This was not Somnil’s first brush with the famous. He had earlier got Mother Teresa, Jyoti Basu and Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee to sign portraits painted by him.But this time, Somnil’s day was really made. Perhaps, so was his future.

   

 
 
DEATH ROW VERDICT FOR TRIPURA YOUTH 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Agartala, April 7: 
Additional district and sessions judge (West Tripura) Swapan Das yesterday sentenced to death 22-year-old Khokan Sarkar, charged with hacking his mother Sumita Sarkar to death on October 2, 1999.

Sarkar, a resident of Kamalnagar village under Kalyanpur police station, was abnormal from his early childhood, sources said. His father had died early and was he brought up with great difficulty by his widowed mother.

Sarkar had married minor Swapna Das, (15), and lived in penury. He often exhibited violent behaviour. On that fateful day, Sarkar pounced on his mother and killed her with an axe after an altercation. A case was registered by police and it dragged on for more than a year before the verdict was finally passed yesterday.

Sources said Sarkar was handed out sentence on the basis of eye-witness accounts of his wife and their neighbour’s son. This is the third death sentence meted out by the judiciary in Tripura during the past two decades. The High Court had commuted the death sentences to life imprisonment terms in the two earlier cases.

In another bizarre incident, a teenaged girl hacked to death her elder sister in Laxmandhepa village under Melaghar police station of West Tripura yesterday. Police sources said two teenaged daughters of farmer Narayan Debnath — Jamuna and Ganga — entered into a quarrel on the courtyard of their residence. An enraged Jamuna struck Ganga with a chopper. She was arrested by the Melaghar police.

Heat wave

A severe heat wave sweeping through the state over the past two months has created drought conditions. The state is also reeling under drinking-water crisis and there are apprehensions of outbreak of enteric diseases. The situation has been aggravated by little or no rain in recent months.

According to official records, eight persons, including children, have already died of enteric disease in Dhalai district. Official sources here said the pre-monsoon season set in on from March 1 and will continue till May 31. “During this period, an average of 300 millimetre of rainfall are normal but over the past one month, only 21.6 millimetre have been recorded,” an official said quoting data given by the weather office. Besides, post-monsoon rainfall in Tripura since November last year was also “negligible”. This has resulted in depletion of ground water level. It has gone down by three to four metres in West and South Tripura and by seven to eight metres in North Tripura district. More then 10 per cent “Boro” crop has already been destroyed.

   

 
 
MANIPUR VILLAGES LIVE IN FEAR OF MYANMAR ARMY 
 
 
FROM OINAM SUNIL
 
Imphal, April 7: 
With no help from the state government and the Centre, the residents of Molcham, Khayang and Yangoulein villages on the Indo-Myanmar border are living under the shadow of threats from the Myanmarese Army.

Their immediate concern is the absence of any Indian security forces in the area.

Manipur’s Molcham valley, which has been embroiled in controversy for the past four decades, was in the news again after the Manipur Human Rights Commission took up a case of alleged torture of Indian villagers by the Myanmarese Army.

Situated in Chandel district, Molcham had always been eyed by the Myanmar military junta since 1961 with view to “grab a part of it” for the construction of a road, sources said. In a bid to stop such incidents, the state government had planned to establish a police post a few years ago. The Manipur Police Housing Corporation has already completed the construction of a police station. However, nothing has been done so far.

Following the rights commission’s directive to the government for a report on the issue before April 14, officials have taken up the matter again. The Myanmarese authorities have even removed the border post number 60 to facilitate the encroachment. This was brought to the government’s notice in 1981, sources said.

There is however a technical problem with border post number 66. The Survey of India maps printed after 1975 mark the stretch between post number 65 and 67 as the “de facto boundary”. The missing post does not seem to bother survey officials.

Official sources here said the survey along the Indo-Myanmar border last month could not be effectively conducted because of lack of adequate security.

The survey officials had demanded about 400 armed security personnel but the government managed to provide only 80, sources said. State law minister O. Joy Singh told The Telegraph that the government had heard the complaint on Myanmarese encroachment. It would raise the issue with the Centre as it involved the international boundary, he said. Joy Singh said Manipur had lost about 28 square km of land to Myanmar in the last 50 years. He added that the Centre was informed about the seriousness of the issue.

Sources from Manipur Cultural Integration Conference (which raised the Molcham issue for the first time in 1981) said the Myanmarese military had approached New Delhi in 1985 for exchange of a village called Choro in return for Molcham.

But it was later found that Choro already existed inside the Indian territory under the state’s Ukhrul district.

   

 
 
THIYAM PLANS THREE NEW PLAYS 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Imphal, April 7: 
The Chorus Repertory Theatre of Ratan Thiyam, which completed 25 years today, has till date produced 36 plays. It is now preparing to produce three plays this year. Notable plays produced by the company include Chakravyuha, Karnabharam, Blind Age, Hiroshima, Uttarpriyadarshi and Vietnam.

As part of the year long celebrations, the National School of Drama, New Delhi in collaboration with the Chorus Repertory Theatre will organise a national theatre colloquium on “Theatre Economics in India in the last 50 years” at Thiyam’s complex, on April 12. Thiyam said the colloquium will discuss problems relating to Indian theatre.

Thiyam complained that theatre was neglected by Indian authorities. Theatre personalities were hardly ever considered for the Padmashree or Padma Bhushan awards, he said. In all these years only four theatre directors have received these honours. “Why are there less awards in theatre in comparison to other mediums like films, music or dance. We want to discuss all these issues in the national theatre colloquium,” he said.

Many noted playwrights, theatre directors, actors and actresses will be in Imphal to attend Thiyam’s function. The director will release a book on Monday.

   

 
 
FALL IN GINGER PRICES HITS ORISSA TRIBALS 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Berhampur, April 7: 
Tribal farmers in Kandhamal district of Orissa have been hit by a sharp fall in the procurement prices of ginger and turmeric.

The two cash crops are a major source of income for the tribals. The Lok Sangram Manch, a tribal organisation, has attributed the slide to a nexus between traders, local politicians and district officials. The crops affected by a drop in procurement prices include mohua, leaf plates and tamarind.

The tribals, who are well-known for ginger and turmeric cultivation for centuries, had received international acclaim a couple of years ago for high yield without using fertiliser and pesticides.

The Orissa Milk Federation (OMFED) had started marketing the Kandhamal turmeric last year. The tribals who had taken loans from local banks for largescale cultivation, are now in despair. It may be noted that there is no prescribed procurement price for ginger. But according to Bhala Chandra Sarangi, a tribal leader, the prices ranged from Rs 30 to Rs 10 per kg last year, which gave the tribals a good profit.

This year, however, the general procurement price has dropped to Rs 2 per kg and the farmers are unable to repay their loans.

They face a further problem of storing ginger, as storage facilities are not available.

The trouble started when two organisations which had played a key role in fixing procurement prices last year, became almost defunct, Lok Sangram leaders alleged. The Tikabali Mala Banijya Samity, a co-operative, which had been buying the products, has become inactive due to mismanagement.

The NGO, Samanwaya, too, has become less active this year.

Bhalachandra, a member of the Lok Sangram Manch, said the traders are extremely powerful as they are the major fund providers for local politicians. They also have good links with local officials.

As a result no steps are taken against them. Last year, the average procurement price of turmeric was around Rs 15 per kg. This year, the traders are paying only Rs 10 pe kg. In case of tamarind, the state government has declared the minimum procurement price as Rs 6 per kg.

   

 
 
RIGHTS PANEL TAKES UP CUSTODY DEATH 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Imphal, April 7: 
The Manipur State Human Rights Commission has taken up a case in connection with the custody death of an alleged militant.

The commission is considering the death of 19-year-old Tongjam Ingobi after he was arrested by police commandos. The commission has issued notices to the state director-general of police and the principal secretary, home, asking why the government should not pay compensation to the family of the deceased. The panel has fixed May 9 for the next hearing.

Ingobi, alleged to be a member of the banned People’s Liberation Army, was shot dead by police commandos on April 24 last year after he was arrested. The commission took up the case following complaints filed by Ingobi’s family.

The rights panel yesterday issued notices to the state government after an inquiry found that Ingobi was shot dead while he was in police custody. The commission has also asked the state government to initiate disciplinary action against sub-inspector Duneshwar Singh and his team, who were responsible for Ingobi’s death.

The superintendent of Imphal West police, in his statement to the commission, had said Ingobi was shot dead when he tried to escape after helping the police commandos recover a revolver. However, the police statement contradicted the findings of the inquiry. It was found that the police had not issued any arrest memo while arresting Ingobi.

The police had also not recorded any statement by Ingobi after his arrest. The directives of the National Human Rights Commission with regard to custody deaths were also not followed by the police in Ingobi’s death. The National Human Rights Commission has made it mandatory to film the post mortem of custody death victims on video. The inquiry has further revealed that Ingobi was not on the wanted list of insurgents prepared by the government. Another blunder committed by the police was that the case against Ingobi was registered after his death.

   

 
 
DEV CLEARS THE AIR ON ASSAM CONGRESS LIST 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Silchar, April 7: 
Congress leader and Lok Sabha MP Santosh Mohan Dev has described as “concocted” a list comprising 56 names purportedly cleared by the Assam PCC as party candidates for the Assembly polls. The list was published in a section of the Press today.

He claimed that no such list was finalised by the PCC.

Speaking to The Telegraph here, Dev said the list of Congress candidates for Assam was likely to be released by the party high command in New Delhi either on April 16 or 17.

The selection will follow the phase-wise screening of the lists of aspirants already sent to the Assam PCC by the various district-level committees of the party.

Dev said the PCC would recommend a list of names of prospective candidates to the AICC after a two-day meeting to be held in Guwahati from tomorrow.

Former Union minister Jagadish Tytler will attend the meeting as the AICC representative.

He said the high-powered screening committee for Assam, headed by Madhavrao Scindia, would then evaluate the prospects of the aspirants.

Dev made it clear that only those having a “clear and controversy-free image” as well as bright chances of winning would be considered for nomination.

The Congress leader said eight leaders from the Bengali-speaking Hindu community of the Brahmaputra Valley districts were expected to be considered in the final list.

He said a list of 40 leaders representing the Bengali Muslim community had also been sent to the PCC.

Dev was hopeful about a “spectacular show” by his party in the polls. He said the electorate was disenchanted with the “opportunistic policies” of both the BJP and the AGP. He said the Congress would be returned in as many as 80 of the 126 seats in the state.

Father kills children: One Brijesh Chandra Paul, a businessman, gunned down two of his children — a seven-year-old son and an eight-year-old daughter — before shooting himself dead with a revolver in south Assam’s Hailakandi town yesterday.

Police suspect domestic discord to be behind the frenzied killings. A tenant at Pauls’ household was being grilled, the police said. Paul is survived by his wife Gita, another son and a daughter.

   

 
 
POSTAL STAFF IN SHILLONG PROTEST ‘RISKS’ 
 
 
FROM BIDHAYAK DAS
 
Shillong, April 7: 
The employees at the unfinished general post office building on Kutchery Road here had a miraculous escape when strong winds brought down heavy wooden window panels, two steel almirahs, tables and other furniture on Saturday.

No one was seriously injured in the incident. However, one of the almirahs came crashing down on the right hand of an aged woman fruit vendor.

Two women employees, L. Khyriem and B. Marbaniang, escaped unhurt though the almirahs fell down inches away from their office desks.

Utter confusion and chaos prevailed at the post office after the incident which has triggered angry protests from the employees. Letters and other important documents could be seen flying all over the place. “We will not risk our lives in this manner,” an employee said.

Sources said 210 employees work without electricity, water and proper sanitation facilities in the complex which the postal department had taken over from a contractor following a High Court order nearly five months ago.

There are only two water filters in the office. “We have to make do with only 20 litres of water and the toilet is in a shambles,” said Uma Roy, an employee of the department.

Senior postal services superintendent A.R. Bhowmick and deputy post master Dilip Dey described the incident as an “unprecedented happening”.

Postal services executive engineer R.K. Gangopadhaya said the building is still under arbitration, so his department was hesitant to renovate it fearing legal hassles.

He said the temporary arrangement could be dangerous, but assured that proper action will be taken soon. “The building is still under trial. So we cannot make any permanent interior and exterior constructions,” he added.

He said the Bangalore-based postal services chief engineer visited the office last month. Though he sanctioned Rs 5 lakh to buy materials for construction, the chief engineer told the civil division to tread carefully till the legal hassles are over. The building will be ready in six months, he added.

   

 
 
KHASI SPRING FESTIVAL BEGINS 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Shillong, April 7: 
The annual Seng Khasi spring festival, Shad Suk Mynsiem, began at the Madan Weiking ground in Jaiaw today. It will end on Monday. Prayers were offered at the Mawkhar Seng Khasi hall in the morning following which people danced their way to the Weiking ground. The festival drew large crowds from all over the Khasi-Jaintia hills. The third day of the fest, which is the most important, is a state holiday.

Hospital aid: The Khasi Jaintia Presbyterian Hospital, Jowai, which was gutted recently in a fire, has been granted Rs 10 lakh from the chief minister’s development fund. Chief minister E.K. Mawlong visited the hospital yesterday.

Eviction dispute: Tension was running high in some border villages of Papum Pare district of Arunachal Pradesh following the recent eviction of the people of an entire village by district authorities of Assam, reports UNI.

North Lakhimpur district authorities forcibly evicted nearly 40 families from the Belo extension village on the inter-state border area on Thursday, claiming that the entire area belonged to Assam.

“They have engaged more than 200 labourers and two elephants besides Assam police and forest officials for the purpose,” sources added. The village is located on the bank of the Singra.

   
 

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