Deal sealed in daylight, baby changes hands in market
Consulate keys on summit table
Bengal speaks English in two voices
Lonely Mamata bursts into tears
Comrades bunk China class
India backs gay group at UN
Dual policy on retirement
Calcutta Weather

Siliguri, June 25: 
Sita Halua reached Jaleshwari bazaar around noon. The frail 30-year-old woman held in her hands an underfed baby, a crying, starving one-year-old boy.

The hungry woman said she was ready to “gift” the boy to anyone who would care to take him in. The crowd swelled in this market on the outskirts of Siliguri as news of Sita’s “offer” spread.

A 40-year-old painter, Kalu Ghosh, and his wife, Banoshree, who did not have any children, jumped at it.

But the crowd which had gathered to watch the baby change hands, insisted the “deal” be “formalised”. So, on a piece of blank paper, an “agreement” was quickly drawn up. Sita said she had “donated” her child to Kalu and his wife.

After that, Sita was gone to where she came from. Kalu gave her Rs 300.

“Yes,” he later told reporters, sitting in the verandah of his house, “I gave her Rs 300. But it was not payment for the child. I merely helped her with money for her bus fare to return to her hometown, somewhere in Bihar. Now that she has legally gifted the child to us, we plan to raise him as our own.”

There was celebration in the Ghosh family. The wife gave away sweets and hunted around for clothes for the baby. Banoshree beamed, proudly showing off the baby to people who came to catch a glimpse of the boy, who had been christened Saurav.

But his mother was gone with her Rs 300, just as suddenly as she had appeared yesterday.

Residents say they saw her first with the baby last night lying beside the eastern bypass near Jaleshwari. “The woman looked emaciated. The boy was crying. He was hungry,” a resident said.

The residents, who informed police in nearby Bhaktinagar, were told to look after the starving mother and son.

“Some of us provided shelter and food to the mother and child last night. But this morning, she wanted to ‘gift’ her child and went to the marketplace,” said a resident.

R. Shiv Kumar, the additional superintendent of police, Jalpaiguri, said he had “heard about the incident from sources”. “A team from Bhaktinagar police station has been asked to make an on-the-spot inquiry into the alleged incident. If at all such a transaction took place, it is illegal. We will investigate.”

But no one has lodged a formal complaint yet. And in the Ghosh family, the celebration’s only just begun.


New Delhi, June 25: 
The summit-bound neighbours are thinking of reopening the Mumbai and Karachi consulates as part of the confidence-building measures.

The consulates were shut down in early 1995 and since then no attempt has been made to reopen them.

India’s high commissioner in Islamabad, Vijay Nambiar, met Pakistan’s interior minister Moinuddin Haidar recently and broached the subject of re-opening the consulates. India has been stressing on improving people-to-people contact with Pakistan to improve relations and reopening the Karachi and Mumbai consulates is being seen as a step in that direction.

The Pakistani authorities had ordered the closure of the Karachi consulate following a sectarian flare-up in the city. Blaming India for using its intelligence agencies to stoke the fire, Islamabad gave marching orders to the then consul-general, Pinak Chakrabarti. India retaliated by asking Pakistan to shut down its consulate in Mumbai.

If the offices are reopened, it will not only be seen as an important step towards restoring confidence and trust, but will go a long way in easing the problems of the people, especially those who come from divided families and have to travel either to Delhi or to Islamabad for getting visas to visit relatives across the border.

A lot will depend on the relationship that builds up between Musharraf and Vajpayee during the Agra summit. The focus will be on Kashmir, but experts do not expect any dramatic progress on the issue. Though the general has been accumulating power, he has little elbow room to bring about a major shift in his country’s stand. Vajpayee, too, has little to offer and can only highlight the “terror” unleashed by militants based in Pakistan.

If the right atmosphere is created between the two leaders, they can at least set the tone for sustaining dialogue in the near future. Clever wordings on Kashmir can be used to convince their respective domestic audiences that more has been gained than lost, but the two sides will have to announce some concrete steps in other areas such as the economic front and on improving people-to-people contact.

Musharraf today said he was “cautiously optimistic” about the summit. Restoring peace in South Asia so that countries can fight poverty was one reason why he accepted Vajpayee’s invitation, he stressed.

Pakistan’s high commissioner in Delhi, Ashraf Jehangir Qazi, met Samajwadi Party leader Mulayam Yadav as part of his exercise to ascertain the views of the Opposition on the summit and what they expected from it.


Calcutta, June 25: 
Signalling a likely confrontation between the government and the CPM, school education minister Kanti Biswas today ruled out in the Assembly the possibility of reintroduction of English from Class I.

“We are not having any re-think on the matter,” he said in reply to a question from Trinamul Congress legislator Sonali Guha. Biswas, known for his proximity to the anti-English lobby at the CPM headquarters, also said his party never made any poll promises in this regard.

As The Telegraph reported earlier this month, while breaking the news about the government’s effort to reintroduce English from Class I after a gap of about 14 years, Biswas’ categorical statement today pointed to the build-up of a confrontation between the government and the party on education reforms.

Replying to a supplementary question on whether the CPM had taken a decision on the issue after the elections, Biswas said: “The party may have done some rethink, but the state government has no plans to change its policy. The contemplation of a move is different from taking a decision.”

The minister’s stand contradicts his party’s decision to constitute a commission. The state CPM decided to form the commission after chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee wrote to Biswas on June 1, urging him to “initiate a move to introduce English from Class I”.

Bhattacharjee had also called for the constitution of a “multi-member commission to prepare a blueprint for the return of English to Class I”. State CPM secretary and politburo member Anil Biswas subsequently hinted at the formation of an experts’ committee in tune with Bhattacharjee’s thrust.

The party’s education sub-committee, headed by the school education minister, met on June 16 to consider the issue. The sub-committee failed to reach a consensus and decided to go by the recommendations of the proposed experts’ panel.

At the meeting, minister Biswas had called for a “threadbare discussion” before taking such a vital decision. It would not be wise to begin teaching English from Class I as it would be an additional pressure on children, he said.

Biswas said the state government, however, would review from time to time the recommendations of the Pabitra Sarkar committee set up to study the possibility of teaching of English at the primary-level.

The minister also contested the perception that West Bengal students were trailing in national competitive examinations due to their inadequate knowledge of English.


Calcutta, June 25: 
The bottled-up burden of defeat exploded in the Trinamul Congress tonight as Mamata Banerjee burst into tears at a meeting of the party’s elected representatives.

“Everyone is leaving me, now that I am in a tight spot after Trinamul’s poor performance in the elections,” a councillor quoted Mamata as telling the meeting convened to decide whether hawkers should be evicted from the city pavements.

Mamata’s breakdown, which came 43 days after a humiliating debacle at the hustings, was witnessed by a stunned group of Trinamul MLAs from Calcutta and councillors.

After the elections, Mamata was caught in a tug-of-war between a section of the party’s MPs, who wanted her to return to the BJP-led coalition, and MLAs, who preferred preserving the alliance with the Congress.

Tonight’s meeting turned stormy when Mayor Subrata Mukherjee threatened to resign if hawkers were not evicted from the 21 major thoroughfares.

Dissolving in tears, Mamata told the gathering at Maharashtra Niwas that she was passing through a bad phase and party leaders were deserting her, according to a councillor present at the meeting.

At the end of the meeting, Mamata formed a 10-member committee led by the mayor to find out whether it would be prudent to evict hawkers from Calcutta pavements and the banks of Tolly’s nullah with active government participation. The committee will submit its report within 10 days.

The trouble started when legislators Saugata Roy, Pankaj Banerjee and Sadhan Pande said hawkers should not be evicted by the Trinamul-run Calcutta Municipal Corporation alone.

“The state government should also be actively involved. It is the poor hawkers who have cast their ballots in our favour. Now if we evict them unilaterally, the CPM will make it an issue and campaign against us. We will lose our pro-people image,” Roy was quoted as telling the meeting, which stretched to five hours. Roy, Banerjee and Pande were joined by Subrata Bakshi and others.

Trinamul is worried about rehabilitating the evicted hawkers without government help. Municipal affairs minister Ashok Bhattacharya had assured the corporation of the government’s help in the eviction drive but a section of Trinamul was not convinced.

Mamata expressed displeasure at the way CMC bulldozers were used to evict encroachers on EM Bypass a few days ago. “Even two Trinamul offices were demolished. We had a good following in that area,” Mamata said.

An MLA who was present at the meeting said the mayor, the councillors and the MLAs softened their stand and tried to console Mamata when she was in tears. When the meeting ended around midnight, Mayor Mukherjee accompanied Mamata to her Kalighat residence.


New Delhi, June 25: 
The Red trade unions have cried off a trip to China: they don’t want to come back red-faced.

The CPM-affiliated Centre for Indian Trade Unions (Citu) and the CPI’s labour arm, the All-India Trade Union Congress (Aituc), have turned down an offer from the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) to be part of an employer-trade union delegation which will visit China on a week-long “study mission” early next month.

Three other organisations, the Indian National Trade Union Congress (Intuc), Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh (BMS) and the Hind Mazdoor Sabha (HMS), have taken up the offer.

Explaining the rationale behind the decision not to go to the “model-socialist” state, Citu general secretary M.K. Pandhe said: “We do not want to be part of an employers’ delegation. In any case, we can directly go to China.” He claimed that the 10-line “cryptic” invitation letter from the CII did not talk about a study mission though Pandhe’s counterpart in the Aituc, K.L. Mahendra, confirmed it.

A CII official said the objective of the “study mission” was to draw lessons from the Chinese economy and adopt a similar strategy for India, which is passing through a critical phase of liberalisation. The Citu and Aituc, he said, have refused to join the delegation but have not given any reason for declining the invitation.

For the Left labour leaders, the visit could be embarrassing because behind the bamboo curtain, China is following the very open-market policies that are anathema to the dyed-in-the-wool communist trade union outfits in India.

The CII got the idea to send an employer-trade union team to China during the Chinese labour minister’s visit to India. But the Left unions smelt a “plot” behind the trip, which, they believe, will provide a platform for propagating a campaign “against China”.

“The CII wants to carry out a propaganda against China — tell people the Chinese government is violating labour laws and encouraging full-fledged privatisation,” Mahendra said. According to him, only 20 per cent of Chinese industry is privatised; 80 per cent is still government-controlled. Citu’s Pandhe sought to dismiss the argument that China has embraced market economy with open arms. “Look at the social benefits they give to their workers. Their health services and education are free and housing is cheap. I have been to their canteens and the kind of food they give is unthinkable in India,” he said.

Left labour leaders believe that if they join the delegation, it would be embarrassing for all concerned. “Employers will ask questions we disagree with and this will lead to differences. We do not want to air our differences in a foreign land. We will talk with them when they return,” argued Mahendra.

But their intransigence puts paid to the CII’s hope of taking all trade unions to a socialist country which began with a tightly-controlled command economy and went on to dismantle it, substituting it with private initiative.

The Left labour organisations are shy of accepting China as a “full blooded” market economy, a far cry from what Mao Zedong had planned and worked for. To the CPM and the CPI, as well as their trade union outfits, China is still firmly on the socialist path.


United Nations, June 25: 
The fight against a disease that has brought humanity to its knees (22 million dead, 36 million infected), reached a major turning point today with leaders and representatives of 180 member countries beginning a three-day meeting here.

The special General Assembly session has been summoned to review HIV/AIDS in all its aspects, the first time that a disease has received such importance.

The unity with which the historic meet was called was usurped by a division over whether a gay and lesbian rights organisation should be included in the list of accredited civil societies (NGOs) participating in the round table discussions. A small group of conservative countries insisted that the inclusion of the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission would be an offence to morals, even though the vulnerable group is an important part of any discussion on HIV.

An amendment to include the organisation was tabled by Canada, and India was among the 62 countries that voted in favour. There was none against, including the few Islamic countries that had raised the issue, while a majority abstained on the ground that over two hours of the session was taken up discussing the issue. The debate follows a colourful and popular four-hour long parade through Fifth Avenue, New York’s most important thoroughfare. The annual gay and lesbian march was more a carnival seeking equal rights for the marginalised community.

None of the 14 presidents and prime ministers attending the session is from Asia and their absence seemed to be reflected on the quantum of assistance that donor countries and organisations pledged on the opening of the meet. Canada announced that it was committing $73 million to fight HIV/AIDS in developing countries While $44.6 million will be used in Africa, populous Asian countries — where the pandemic is now of growing concern — received only $1.8 million. Similarly, UNDP announced mobilisation of $95 million to fight AIDS in Burkina Faso.

The apparent lack of high-level political commitment from the largest continent was obviated somewhat by the composition of the Indian delegation, which is the only one here that will have the leader of the Opposition, Sonia Gandhi, delivering a country’s keynote speech tomorrow.

The International Labour Organisation today launched new policy guidelines on HIV/AIDS in the workplace after the virus has infected about 23 million workers worldwide. The revised guidelines are more comprehensive and wide-ranging.


New Delhi, June 25: 
The Central government is lurching towards a fresh controversy — this time over a discriminatory “first-among-equals” policy that will enable the secretaries in a few key ministries to stay in the saddle till they are 62 while their counterparts in other “lesser” ministries retire at 60.

The ostensible reason for such a proposal is to ensure a work continuum in the important ministries that flies in the face of the canons of natural justice. The irony is that the proposal is being made at a time when the government is talking about downsizing the bureaucracy. The talk is to downsize the bloated bureaucracy by 3 per cent in the tenth plan.




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1.5 mm

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A few spells of rain of light to moderate rain in some parts.
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