Govt reads Malda map as boat sinks
Stellar poser on rathayatra
Law school offers relief tips to state
Left disquiet over tuition ban Bill
Subrata lays table to broker peace
Teachers rap govt for pay delay

Calcutta, June 23: 
Rescue operations for the 50 passengers feared drowned as a boat capsized in the Ganga on Saturday were, reportedly, hampered as the Malda district administration was busy scrutinising whether the accident occurred at Rajmahal, in Jharkhand, or at Manikchowk, in West Bengal.

A boat carrying 150 passengers capsized midstream near Manikchowk on Saturday morning. Till the evening, the bodies of two children were recovered and 19 people were being treated at Manikchowk and Malda hospitals.

Hours after the mishap, Malda district magistrate A.R. Bardhan claimed that the accident occurred in the Rajmahal police station area of Jharkhand and not in Manikchowk, under his charge. “I have informed the chief secretary about the matter,” Bardhan told The Telegraph at Manikchowk.

The boat started sailing from Palasgachi village, in Sahebgunj district of Jharkhand, for Mathurapurhat. Most of the passengers hailed from Jharkhand. Around 9 am, the overloaded boat turned over during a storm. People at the Manikchowk ghat saw the boat sinking and rushed to rescue the passengers with four boats. Seventeen passengers were taken to Manikchowk hospital where two girls, aged five and two, were pronounced dead. Two passengers were shifted to Malda Sadar Hospital as their condition deteriorated.

Bardhan was mobbed by survivors, who either swam to the shore or were rescued. The district administration was making no serious effort to carry out rescue operations, they alleged.

“No one from your department is trying to trace our missing relatives. We have lost all our belongings. Can’t you help us return to our homes in Jharkhand?” the stranded passengers asked Bardhan when he reached Manikchowk.

Kaliachowk, Muthubari and Manikchowk police stations were directed to carry out search operations. “We have neither our own divers nor an adequate number of boats,” Bardhan said. The Malda district administration has sought the help of the Farakka Barrage authorities to trace the missing passengers.

The mothers of the two children, whose bodies were recovered, were inconsolable. Jenekha Bibi and her four children were sailing to Naranpur village in Manikchowk from Baluma village in Jharkhand. “The boat was overcrowded with more than 150 passengers on board when it reached Palasgachi village. When the boat was nearing Manikchowk, there was a storm and the river became turbulent. Soon, we all fell into the water. I lost consciousness and came to in hospital. Doctors told me that all my children were missing. I know they have died. I don’t want to live anymore,” Jenekha wept at Manikchowk hospital, sitting next to the body of her two-year-old daughter, Anwara Khatun. She lost consciousness soon after.

Najima Bibi, who was also on the boat with two children, has lost her five-year-old daughter Sahina. “I tried to save both my son and daughter. But I failed to save Sahina as I was trying hard to reach the shore with my son”, she said.

Apart from the passengers, the boat was carrying cattle, huge stacks of raw jute and about 20 quintals of vegetables. The capsized boat is yet to be traced.


Calcutta, June 23: 
A rare astrological phenomenon forced rathayatra organisers to rethink their plans as the stars decided to create formations that almost offloaded Subhadra from the chariot and prevented women from participating in the ceremony.

This year, ambubachi — when the sun comes closest to the star Adra — coincided with rathayatra. Ambubachi is the three-day period when Mother Earth has her menstrual cycle and widows are barred from entering temples and taking part in rituals. During this phase, other women can worship, but only gods, not goddesses. And so, Lord Jagannath’s sister Subhadra, many thought, had no place in the chariot festival.

Arun Lahiri, editor of the Bishuddha Sidhanta almanac, said this phenomenon occurs at an interval of 19 years. “The last time it occurred was in 1982 when ambubachi started on June 22 and rathayatra fell on June 23,” Lahiri added.

This unusual situation forced organisations like the Indian Society for Krishna Consciousness (Iskcon) and the organisers of the 600-year-old Mahesh rathayatra in Hooghly to hold emergency meetings to find a way out of this stellar jam.

The Iskcon authorities, after debating over whether Subhadra should be excluded from the chariot ride, decided not to be harsh on her. Rathayatra is the annual festival held across the country when the siblings Krishna (in this case in his avatar as Jagannath), Balaram and Subhadra are taken out on a chariot at the end of the summer months to visit Gundicha, their maternal aunt. And on this occasion, mortals pull their chariot, perform puja and have darshan.

Ambubachi is a solemn period in the Hindu annual calendar. As Mother Earth is under stress, women do not light homefires and the most orthodox survive on stale food and the fields are left unploughed.

“After contacting the Jagannath Temple in Puri we found out that they were not excluding Subhadra. So we also decided to follow suit,” said Murali Mohan Das of Iskcon. “We also decided to allow women to pull the chariot,” Das said.

Keeping an eye on the recent power struggle between the two factions of Iskcon, the administrative committee, headed by Dayaram Das, moved court and secured an order allowing it to organise the chariot-pulling festival on the streets of Calcutta.

Three chariots were brought over from Iskcon’s Mayapur temple three days ago.

“The old chariots, which we used in the past few years, have been damaged by the rival group. They were in no condition to be used this time. We have informed the police about this,” an Iskcon official said. The images, too, were brought from Mayapur.

The procession was taken out from the Albert Road temple under police protection on Saturday morning.


Calcutta, June 23: 
The West Bengal National University of Juridical Sciences (NUJS) has offered the state government help in “better disaster management”.

According to Prof N.R. Madhava Menon, vice-chancellor, NUJS, law and legal services can play an effective role in rescue, relief, rehabilitation and reconstruction.

“The post-quake scenario in Gujarat is a stark instance of how administrative inefficiency can prolong human suffering,” said Menon at a seminar on ‘The Role of Law and Legal Services in Disaster Management’ on Saturday. Menon stressed the need for law to “rise above the rigidities of rules, statutes and doctrines” to help disaster victims.

The seminar was attended by Justice J.N. Bhatt of Gujarat High Court and chairman of Gujarat Legal Services Authority, P. Ingty, principal secretary, relief department, government of West Bengal and state human rights commission chairman Justice Mukul Gopal Mukherjee.

The law school is preparing a proposal and case studies on natural disasters. “In view of floods in some parts of West Bengal and high risk of earthquake in certain zones, these case studies will equip the state to fight disaster effectively,” Menon said.


Calcutta, June 23: 
A day after the government announced in the Assembly that it will introduce a legislation banning private tuition, major Left Front partners like the CPI, Forward Bloc and the RSP hurriedly convened a meeting with the CPM-controlled All Bengal Teachers’ Association (ABTA) to discuss the “burning” issue.

Sources said the meeting turned stormy with Front partners opposing the government’s move to rein in teachers engaged in private tuition.

The respective teachers’ bodies of the Front partners, which met at the office of the ABTA today, felt the government should have a detailed discussion with them before introducing the Bill.

The CPM-controlled ABTA is not opposed to the government’s proposal, but said it should first try to build a consensus among the teachers’ bodies on the issue before tabling the Bill.

The CPI, Forward Bloc and the RSP feel the proposed legislation would subject the teachers to unnecessary harassment. “Teachers are not responsible for the prevailing practice among the students to seek private tuition. Private tuition can be done away with only by a thorough revamping of the syllabi and by improving infrastructure,” said Amiya Basu, leader of the CPI’s teachers’ cell.

Sources said the government wants to incorporate penal measures like withholding annual increments of teachers and issuing them with strictures in case they were found taking private tuition.

“We are going to prepare the legislation to prevent teachers from accepting private tuition in the students’ interest. There will be penal measures for those who violate the law,” said school education minister Kanti Biswas.

The minister, however, conceded it would be difficult to identify the errant teachers. “There are about 3.75 lakh teachers working in different government and semi-government institutions. We expect the teachers to abide by the proposed legislation since theirs is a noble profession,” he said.

Kerala, too, had introduced a similar legislation but it could not prove a majority of the charges against the teachers.

Several anti-CPM teachers’ bodies such as the Bengal Primary Teachers’ Association, Secondary Teachers’ and Employees’ Association and the West Bengal Headmasters’ Association are opposed to the legislation. Those opposing the legislation feel the government’s real motive is to “victimise political opponents”.

“It is an absurd proposition which can never be implemented. We apprehend that the legislation will be used to victimise teachers who will refuse to obey the diktats of the ABTA and the WBCUTA,” said Prithwis Basu, general secretary of the West Bengal Headmasters’ Association.

Basu contested finance minister Asim Dasgupta’s argument that the move was aimed at improving the standard of education and making the teachers more accountable. “We feel the standard of education can be improved by strengthening basic infrastructure in schools and colleges,” he said.

The teachers’ representatives pointed out that most of the Madhyamik and Higher Secondary toppers had gone on record that they had to depend on private tutors. “The syllabi of these two vital examinations are so vast and complicated that the students simply cannot rely on the lessons they receive in their respective schools. Even students of reputed private educational institutions having the required infrastructure are compelled to seek private tuition to complete the syllabi,” they said.


Calcutta, June 23: 
Mayor Subrata Mukherjee today offered to mediate between Mamata Banerjee and Ajit Panja if the Trinamul leader agreed and if there were “positive feelers” from the rebel MP.

“I’m ready to bring both Mamata and Ajitda to the negotiating table in the party’s interest,” Mukherjee said this afternoon. He added that the issue could come up for discussion at a dinner to be hosted by him, tentatively fixed for June 27.

Expressing concern over Panja’s move to organise a convention of dissident workers at Mahajati Sadan on June 30, Mukherjee said this would only create confusion among the party’s rank and file. “Ajitda’s activities are sending wrong signals to the grassroots workers at a time when we require absolute unity to fight the CPM’s onslaught,” he added.

Mukherjee’s contention is significant given that Ranjit Panja, MP and elder brother of Ajit Panja, has said the standoff should end. Ranjit Panja, who attended a dinner hosted by Akbar Ali Khondekar, MP from Srirampur, at his Hooghly residence yesterday, raised the subject before Mamata.

“I felt Subrata should take the initiative and play the role of an honest broker so that Mamata and Ajit can sit across the table to iron out their differences and reach a consensus on organisational issues,” the elder Panja told The Telegraph.

“I had earlier broached the issue with Ajit and he readily agreed to my suggestion provided he was given due honour and position in the party. After all, Ajit happens to be one of Trinamul’s founder-members,” Ranjit Panja said.

Welcoming Mukherjee’s proposal, Panskura MP Bikram Sarkar said: “Nothing could be a better proposition than to restore unity in the party. Ajit Panja has been a part and parcel of Trinamul from its very inception. We cannot afford to lose him at this juncture.”

Describing Panja’s dissident activities as “unfortunate”, Sarkar said he should not hold parallel conventions and meetings as these would harm the organisation. Sarkar drew a parallel between Panja’s revolt and a similar incident involving Pankaj Banerjee, leader of Opposition in the Assembly, a few years ago.

Banerjee had left Trinamul to rejoin the Congress following differences with Mamata. However, the issue was soon resolved and Banerjee came back to Trinamul and was made chairman of its policy-making body.

Trinamul insiders, however, pointed out that Panja’s tiff with Mamata cannot be easily resolved since it concerns the party’s policy vis-ŕ-vis the BJP and the Congress. While Panja is in a hurry to rejoin the NDA and wants the party to snap its ties with the Congress, Mamata is opposed to the idea since there is no consensus over the issue.

A section of party MPs is eager to return to the Central coalition, saying they had won the elections with the BJP’s support. However, most Trinamul legislators want the alliance with the Congress to continue as they had fought the Assembly polls on an electoral understanding with the party.


Calcutta, June 23: 
A section of the CPM-controlled West Bengal College and University Teachers’ Association (WBCUTA) today slammed the government for not releasing the salary bills for over 500 teachers in nearly 30 colleges in the city and elsewhere in the districts for the past two months.

At a stormy WBCUTA executive body meeting yesterday, the members demanded that a statewide agitation be launched against the government’s apathy towards teachers. They have also decided to send a delegation to higher education minister Satya Sadhan Chakraborty.

The teachers even threatened to observe a token ceasework next month, which sparked cries of protest from the pro-CPM group.

The aggrieved teachers pointed out that it was not the first time that the government had delayed sending salary bills to colleges. “Payment of salaries was stopped in a large number of colleges last year. This kind of irregularity should be stopped immediately,” the teachers said.

WBCUTA sources said teachers from state-aided colleges were most vociferous about the non-payment of arrears. They claimed that the government has cleared the arrear salaries to teachers of all universities and government-run colleges after the implementation of the last pay commission.

“We are surprised to learn that over 12,000 college teachers in the state have still not got 50 per cent of their arrears.”

The teachers also pointed out that in an unprecedented move, the government had sent a back-dated circular to colleges in January 2001, saying the arrears would be cleared for teachers in state-aided colleges by December 2000. “Even as the circular was back-dated, the government has not taken steps to rectify the mistake and take proper measures to clear the dues,” the teachers said.


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