Doc in decentralisation drive
Planning masterbody on fast track
Rogue tusker elusive
Dacoits kill ex-soldier, son
Business bonhomie, CPM style
Loan plan finds favour with CM
Neighbours battle for supremacy
India waits for Pak request on talks
Students go gaga in radio class
Potshots in Cong poll post-mortem

Calcutta, May 21: 
When Suryakanta Mishra had sought a meeting with the then health minister, Prasanta Sur, at his chamber at Writers’ Buildings in the late eighties, he was turned away and asked to come the next day as the minister was in a meeting.

He was chairman of the Midnapore zilla parishad then. Today, he occupies the chair Sur did.

The fifth minister in charge of the health department and the second doctor (after Dr Ambarish Mukherjee) to hold the portfolio since 1977 is aware of the legacy his predecessors have left him to handle.

Health, along with industry and education, is one of the three areas that chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee has said needs most attention.

A 1970-batch graduate from the SCB Medical College in Cuttack, Mishra completed his post-graduate studies in chest medicine in 1974. Involvement in politics drew him away from a sustained practice. Though he kept his interest alive, he has stopped being a doctor on a professional basis for a decade.

On his first day in office today, the minister was yet to decide on an effective plan of action to improve health care delivery in the state.

“We will first have to understand the working of the department,” he told The Telegraph. “I will also draw on the experience and advice of my predecessors.”

He said Bengal was on the right track with a fall in poverty levels and an increase in nutritional status. Besides, vital factors like crude birth and death rates were on his side. “Bengal is second only to Kerala in this regard.”

The minister had, however, drawn up his “basic thrust area”. With a “good infrastructural base waiting to be fully utilised,” Mishra said his department would be going in for “effective decentralisation at the panchayat-civic body/municipality levels.”

Along with that, the managements of big hospitals and medical colleges would be improved.

“Decentralisation will take place here as well. These institutes would be given more power so that they can function independently, taking their own decisions.”

A monitoring system would be in place, he said, hinting that the concept of high-level teams paying surprise visits would continue. This method of checking whether doctors, nurses and other staff were present during duty hours was initiated by his predecessor, Partha De.

On the lack of motivation among health staff, Mishra said the “problem had to be identified” in the right perspective. “Concrete steps will have to be taken. I can’t give details now; I believe it is better in doing than in saying.”


Calcutta, May 21: 
The government has begun preparations to elect representatives of the Metropolitan Planning Committee, which will oversee all development work in the city and its suburbs.

This committee, which the government had proposed just before the civic polls last year, could well come into conflict with the Trinamul-controlled Calcutta Municipal Corporation.

Municipal affairs minister Asok Bhattacharya today said the committee’s immediate priorities would be to draw up a traffic plan for the 1,400 sq km Calcutta Metropolitan Area and upgrade water supply. Bhattacharya hinted that either he or chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee would head the committee.

The body will “strictly” monitor all urban projects being carried out by municipalities, corporations and panchayats.

This could put the committee in a clash course with the CMC, especially at a time when the civic body is set to receive about $250 million from the Asian Development Bank and £28 million for an environmental project.

Bhattacharya welcomed mayor Subrata Mukherjee’s recent statement that the CMC will not enter into confrontation with Writers’ Buildings.

Two-thirds of the committee’s members will be elected while the remaining will be nominated by the government. Members of the corporation, municipalities, panchayats and zilla parishads will elect the representatives, who, in turn, will nominate the remaining members from state and Central government agencies.

The panel will overlook, consider, approve and even plan urban development projects undertaken by state and Central government agencies. It will have a say in projects undertaken by the Metro Railway, Calcutta Telephones, Calcutta Port Trust and the railways. “This is being done to have better inter-agency coordination while implementing any project,” Bhattacharya said.

According to the blueprint drawn up by the state municipal affairs department:

All plans, schemes and project will be routed through the panel.

The committee’s technical wing will integrate the plans with the existing master and perspective plans on urban development before giving a go-ahead.

It will function with the sub-committee on transport, water, drainage, sewerage, housing, and other infrastrutural areas.

Agencies like the public works department, transport department will have to get their urban schemes cleared by the panel.

All schemes undertaken by the CMC will have to be routed through the committee.


Beliatore (Bankura), May 21: 
For the fifth day today, Madhumala idled away the empty hours in the gardens of the Beliatore forest range.

Mohammad Bass, too, waited idly. But he was tense. He’s waiting for calls from the search party out to capture a rogue tusker that has killed five persons in the last one month besides injuring several more in Barjora, Beliatore and Sonamukhi.

Madhumala, a kunki elephant, was brought to this forest range from Cooch Behar division on May 16. Her job is to assist a hunting party, including wildlife technical assistant Subrata Palchoudhury and gunman Ashok Dey, to track down the killer elephant in the thick jungles after its exact location is identified.

Armed with .404 rifles and flares, the hunting party, accompanied by additional divisional forest officer Lipika Roy, carried out combing operations in the jungles of Barjora, Beliatore and Hamirhati since early morning but gave up after sundown.

Dejected at its failure, the hunting party temporarily abandoned the search. Divisional forest officer (DFO), Panchet division, Kalyan Das, said Madhumala will be kept at the Beliatore forest garden until another search operation is launched to locate the rogue.

The Panchet division has also been alerted as forest officials suspect the killer tusker might have taken shelter either in Bishnupur or Jaipur forest.


Siliguri, May 21: 
A former soldier and his son were killed in Sukna when they put up fight against armed dacoits who had come to rob his tenant’s home. Both ex-Gorkha Regiment subedar Mani Kumar Chettri (63) and his 24-year-old son, Ramesh, were shot.

“A 10-member gang of dacoits raided Chettri’s tenant Harka Bahadur Limboo. When Chettri intervened, he was shot in the stomach and died on the spot. His son died on way to hospital,” said additional superintendent of police, Kurseong, Rajesh Subarno.

Police suspect the gang had come from Ganglia in Bihar and was helped by some local poeple.


New Delhi & Calcutta, May 21: 
The CPM tonight tried to ride out the controversy over receiving on Sunday a delegation from an industry lobby at its headquarters, saying the event was a measure of the way it had refashioned the orthodox attitude to business.

Senior CPM officials said the party’s interface with a high-profile delegation from the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) in its lair in Alimuddin Street, though unprecedented, needed to be viewed in the context of how it had reinvented itself in the past two years.

In the visit of the CII delegation, made up of its national presi dent Sanjiv Goenka, eastern regional president Harsh Neotia and Tarun Das, the lobby’s director-general, to its headquarters, the party saw an opportunity to dispel a popular notion about it, several officials said.

“If anything at all, look for the statement the party has made by receiving the delegation at its headquarters,” said one preferring anonymity.

“It says that the party was held responsible all these days for all that should have happened but did not because of various factors; but now the party is not standing in the way of industrialisation. If anything, it is actually going out of the way to supplement the government’s initiatives from day one.”

The buzz through Monday was not only the CII delegation’s visit to Alimuddin Street, but also the equally unusual presence of a few CPM top bosses like secretary Anil Biswas and Biman Bose at the dinner hosted by the CII (eastern region) on Sunday evening in a five-star hotel.

Many of the assembled industrialists, investors, bankers, academics, socialites went in ones and twos to meet Biswas and Bose, both politburo members, and other CPM leaders seated in a smaller room adjoining the banquet hall.

Defending the party’s position, the officials said the meeting at the headquarters and the dinner should be viewed in light of the changes it incorporated into its programme at the special session at Thiruvananthapuram.

“The current impulses for innovative responses to various situations can be said to be flowing from the line of thought and action we formulated at Thiruvananthapuram. For example, look at the way the party and the government collaborated on creating the ideal team for embarking upon industrialisation. So, it’s time to jettison the age-old and baseless impression that the party is a stumbling block,” another official said.

Neither Biswas nor Bose nor any other senior functionary was readily available for comment as they were busy in a meeting of the state secretariat today, where the issue is believed to have figured.

But sources close to them responded, saying that Biswas and Bose had been explaining the party’s pro-business attitude to industrialists for many months now.

“We had industrialists over on the commissioning of the Ganashakti building a few years ago,” they said.

However chin-up the CPM looked in the face of the controversy, its monolithic labour wing, the Citu, maintained a studied silence. In contrast, the Intuc and several other trade unions attached to the Front partners expressed their unhappiness at the CPM’s back-slapping bonhomie with business.


New Delhi, May 21: 
West Bengal chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s meeting with business barons at the Alimuddin Street office of the CPM may have ruffled puritan feathers in his party, but the comrade knew what he was after.

Sitting at the state headquarters of the communist party, Bhattacharjee gave a patient hearing to CII president Sanjiv Goenka — with whom he is well acquainted — and director-general Tarun Das. By all accounts, what he heard warmed the cockles of his New Left heart for it was a plan to make a hundred capitalists bloom.

Among other things, Das briefed Bhattacharjee on a model that the CII has evolved in partnership with the Bharatiya Yuva Shakti Trust (BYST). The BYST is run by Laxmi Venkatesan, founder-trustee and daughter of former President R. Venkataraman.

The Trust gives loans of Rs 50,000 each to underprivileged and unemployed youths between 18 and 35 years of age. The loans are given at the prevailing bank rate of interest.

But what distinguishes the BYST from other lending outfits is the “Mentor” programme that is at the heart of its scheme. It provides each of its beneficiaries with a personal “business guru” — from one of the member-companies of the CII — to guide the person in setting up and establishing his business. The trust has so far supported 600 ventures in the country that have generated employment for 2,000 people.

“The model has worked very well so far in Delhi, Chennai, Hyderabad, Pune and in 80 villages in Haryana. In fact, the BYST has thrown up its first crorepati — Pradip Lumba — who has made his money out of a business in corrugated boxes,” Venkatesan said.

On the surface, it seems a little odd that the CII bosses should bore the chief minister with details of the BYST programme. What they have actually been urging him to do — and they are illustrating this with the BYST programme — is to foster an entrepreneurial culture.

The BYST’s rate of return is very high — Venkatesan says that less than 5 per cent of the loans have had to be written off. This will be possible in a state like West Bengal, where the CPM is entrenched in the countryside through the panchayats, if the local administration actively discourages wilful defaulters.

“We actually do not seek the involvement of state governments because this is a private sector programme,” says Venkatesan. “All that we look for from governments is a political climate that is conducive for us to run this programme and an assurance that those who do not repay will be made accountable.”


New Delhi, May 21: 
Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh are locked in a battle for supremacy with Ajit Jogi declaring that he would make his state the country’s “power state” and his fellow Congressman Digvijay Singh setting up community-level grain banks to implement Senonomics.

Jogi, the Chhattisgarh chief minister, today promised to generate half of the 1,00,000 mw power shortfall faced by the country, but ruled out free sale or even on credit. He is also refusing to give power to Madhya Pradesh on credit. “Too bad, if they do not have money,” Jogi said.

The former bureaucrat is counting on the rich forest, land, water, mineral and human resources of Chhattisgarh — which was carved out of Madhya Pradesh — to showcase his state on the fast track. Jogi has signed a memorandum of understanding with the Jindal group for investments of over Rs 6,000 crore in various projects to counter the charge that his government was against private enterprise.

“I am not against disinvestment. I am against dishonesty,” Jogi said, referring to the recent Balco selloff to the Sterlite Group. In the next few months, similar MoUs are likely to be signed with foreign investors from Japan, the US, the UK and France in the power and mining sectors. Jogi today announced a series of concessions to kick off industrial development in his state.

With a significant portion of Madhya Pradesh’s natural resources now falling in Chhattisgarh, Digvijay has taken a different course to counter his college-mate-turned-competitor.

Digvijay has asked Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee to make available 2.75 lakh tonnes of foodgrain to Madhya Pradesh as a one-time corpus for grain banks in all villages. Self-help groups will manage these banks on the basis of internal rotation, which would eliminate the waste incurred in the centralised public distribution system.

The “grain for green” scheme, Digvijay said, would achieve self-reliance in oilseeds and pulses. The surplus food stock will be utilised to generate capital formation in villages in the form of water harvesting and land management. Grain given to the poor can be adjusted for their services in the construction of wells and field-bunds, etc.

“The grain support will give immediate food security and, by converting this into ‘green’ in their farms, farmers will be able to create long-term food security,” Digvijay said. He also favours a cash-incentive scheme for farmers who switch from cereal production to oilseed crops.

Every farmer, he said, could be given an incentive of Rs 2,000 per hectare upfront. If the scheme is implemented over two million hectares, the investment required will be Rs 400 crore.

The money could be generated by imposing an oilseeds development fund levy of Rs 1,000 per tonne of imports of crude oil and Rs 3,000 per tonne on that of refined oil. “The levy gathered at customs clearance can generate Rs 1,000 crore,” he said.


New Delhi, May 21: 
The Centre today said that though the proposed meeting of Saarc officials in Colombo may see bilateral interaction between foreign secretary Chokila Iyer and her Pakistani counterpart, it may not lead to the revival of Indo-Pak talks.

Delhi insisted that the meeting should not be seen as a precursor to the Saarc summit, which has not taken place since July 1998.

The meeting, which will be attended by foreign secretaries of the Saarc countries, will be held in the Sri Lankan capital on June 8 and 9. The meeting has fuelled speculation on the possible revival of India-Pak talks.

Foreign ministry spokesman R.S. Jassal said though it is not unusual for foreign secretaries to interact on the margins of the Saarc meeting, India has so far not received such a request from Pakistan. Nepal has already asked for a meeting with Iyer. “It’s not unusual for foreign secretaries to meet on the sidelines, but we have not received any such request from Pakistan,” he said.

“The political dialogue process is a separate issue and the two should not be mixed. Our position for resuming the stalled dialogue with Pakistan remains unchanged,” the spokesman added.

Jassal pointed out that the special session of Saarc officials is not a regular event. It will only be the third time in the regional grouping’s history that such a meeting will take place.

The need for such a meeting was felt to review the decisions and workings of the various Saarc panels in the past two years. “This may not necessarily lead to the Saarc summit either,” Jassal said.

The foreign ministry spokesman’s remarks indicate that India is willing to adopt a strategy of playing-it-by-the-ear rather than committing itself before hand on returning to the negotiating table with Islamabad. Since Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s “peace bus” ride to Lahore in February 1999, the two sides have not had a political dialogue to resolve a number of issues, including the Kashmir dispute.

The wait-and-watch policy stems mainly from two reasons. One, Delhi is under no pressure either domestically or from the international community to resume dialogue with Pakistan and, thus, can take a little longer before rushing to the talks-table. Two, it has not seen any significant movement or any categorical assurance from Pakistan on suspension of violence in Kashmir.

The Indian leadership has thus decided to wait before announcing its next step and see how Pakistan reacts, if and when the two foreign secretaries meet on the sidelines in Colombo. By keeping Islamabad guessing about whether or not it will be keen to resume the stalled political dialogue, Delhi is trying to drive a hard bargain and achieve the best possible deal from the Pakistani military rulers.

If Pervez Musharraf is desperate to gain legitimacy, he will try to ensure that India returns to the talks table. This can take place only when Delhi is assured that he is taking serious steps to distance himself from militants.


Mumbai, May 21: 
Course — script-writing. Exercise — “Masala Mix” (Hindi, English or both). Requirement — the gift of the gab. Recommended reading — Maharashtra Times, Navbharat Times.

The class is in progress at Wild on Air, a school for radio jockeys. The teacher listens intently as a nervous would-be RJ reads out her script — it’s a detailed account of whom Bryan Adams had dedicated Cloud No. 9 to and why. The script is appreciated — on “Masala Mix” an RJ can speak on anything in any language or play any song. “But it sounds as if you’re reading from a paper in front of you,” the teacher says. He suggests peppering the speech with Hindi and recommends the Hindi newspapers.

Wild on Air, set up in a hip Mumbai suburb, is doing brisk business, says RJ Siddharth Kannan, a well-known voice in the city, who set up the school with Techniche Media, a radio production house. Started at the end of last year, it already has 150-odd students — in several batches — voice-modulating, music-mixing and script-writing to glory within its air-conditioned premises and paying Rs 3,500 for six sessions.

Because radio is set to be the Next Big Thing, according to the industry.

Says Chetan Fernandes, a marketing official with Times FM who was conducting the Wild on Air class: “Within six to eight months, with groups like Times, Mid-day and STAR running their private channels, radio will be big.” Jiten Hemdev, CEO, Radiostar Broadcast, echoes Fernandes.

“Private channels will revolutionise radio. There will be snazzy programmes, the latest music and other catchy items like traffic news,” says Hemdev.

So, though Wild on Air may be the “first radio school in the country” according to Kannan, other training centres are also sprouting in the city.

“There will be 108 radio channels in the country by the end of this year. All these will demand trained radio jockeys. This is what we are catering to,” says Kannan.

The rumblings can already be heard. The STAR Radio team is in Bangalore, where it has already put its channel on a test run. The channel will take off officially on June 1. Times FM, which is almost non-functional now, is also set to kick off its operations from smaller cities like Lucknow and Indore. It will take six more months or so for private radio to start functioning from the metros because of infrastructure problems.

“In Mumbai, the problem is setting up the transmitter. It has yet to be decided, given the cost of setting it up here, if all the channels will come together to set up the transmitter or put up individual ones. Once that is decided, private channels will start buzzing in the metros,” said an official from a channel.

Then television will have trouble, feel many, because TV is no competition to radio, given its accessibility and reach and radio jockeying will be a choice career option. Gone are the days of Amin Sayani.


Calcutta, May 21: 
The state Congress today criticised “some individuals” — perceived as a reference to A.B.A. Ghani Khan Chowdhury and Ajit Panja — for the alliance’s failure “to achieve the desired result” in the recent Assembly polls.

“The malicious, provocative and baseless observations of some individuals in both the parties have not only created confusion but conveyed a wrong message to the electorate and party workers. This unhealthy tendency must be avoided in future,” a resolution adopted by the Pradesh Congress Committee (PCC) executive said.

Presided over by state Congress chief Pranab Mukherjee, the meeting was attended by 42 out of the 59 executive members.

The meeting took a dig at Trinamul Congress chief Mamata Banerjee for the poll debacle, saying that “personal charisma and popularity are no substitute for a well-built organisation to win the elections and euphoria is no substitute to hard work.”

The PCC regretted that the impact of the alliance did not percolate to the ground levels. “The full involvement of the Congress rank and file in working for the success of alliance candidates did not take place. Similarly, Trinamul workers were also not motivated to work for the success of Congress candidates, leading to the Left Front nominees’ victory in many seats,” the meeting felt.

Blaming All-India Congress Committee general secretary Kamal Nath for problems on seat-sharing, the panel felt that seat allocation could not be made on relative strength of the individual parties.

“In some constituencies, where we could not accommodate potential powerful candidates to defeat the CPM, they contested and won as Independents, while, in other areas, they played the role of spoilers,” the meeting observed.

Commenting on the party’s future relationship with the Trinamul Congress, Mukherjee said: “Our CLP leader will talk to his counterpart in the Trinamul Congress over floor coordination in the Assembly.” He, however, added that the party was yet to take a decision on launching a joint stir against the Left Front.

Talking to reporters after the meeting, Mukherjee said the party would play the role of a “responsible constructive Opposition to the new government during its tenure. We will cooperate with the government on development issues, but will oppose anti-people measures.”

Mukherjee said he would convene a meeting of district Congress presidents in the first week of June to review the party’s political strategy against the CPM.

The executive committee also commented on “rigging and malpractices” during the elections. “The very basic fundamental principle of maintaining administrative neutrality at the time of elections has been lacking all through the Left Front regime. This time too, there was hardly any deployment of Central forces in sensitive booths and constituencies and Central observers failed to play their role in ensuring a free and fair election.”

The committee added that the party had drawn the Election Commission’s attention to these aspects, but “unfortunately its response was not positive”. Voicing concern over reports of post-poll violence, intimidation and killing of party workers, the panel said: “The PCC is distressed to note the unabated political violence in the state despite the Left Front’s massive majority. It calls upon the state government to take all possible measures to stop violence.”

Mukherjee said he will visit Sabang and other affected areas with other Congress leaders on May 26 to boost the morale of party workers.


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