Farewell, captain courageous
Hills exempt from Bengali in PSC exams
Funds boost to Bandelplant
Rescued crew in Haldia
MBBS internship to be restructured
Maid, doubters’ mother to greet Musharraf
Grenade bid on Farooq
US keeps hands off Agra talks
Rabri draws fire for ministers’ pay hike
Congress for Centre dialogue with Hurriyat

Kurseong, July 11: 
The Hill Cart Road was lined with people come to catch a last glimpse of the captain who fell to militants’ bullets in far-away Kupwara on July 8.

Twenty-year-old Captain Suraj Sharma’s father was there, too; bereaved, but proud. “He had opted for one of the toughest units in the armed forces and performed his duty with bravery and honour. We are proud of Suraj’s sacrifice for the nation. He fought like a soldier and died like one,” he said.

The captain’s body was today flown to Bagdogra Airport and given full military honours. Another body was also flown in, that of a young officer of the para commando unit, Diren Thapa.

The top army brass as well as representatives of the Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council (DGHC) were present to place wreaths on the soldiers.

Residents lined the roads as the hearse carrying the body of the slain captain climbed up to Kurseong.

Speaking to The Telegraph, from his St Mary’s Hills residence on the outskirts of Kurseong town, Suraj’s father, R.K. Sharma, said: “Suraj always wanted to excel in life. It was his own choice to join the army on his uncle’s footsteps.”

Brig. K.P.S. Jadav of the para commandos said: “On the night of July 8, the captain led a 20-member crack team to raid a militant hideout deep inside the Rajnawoa jungles in Kupwara. But the militants ambushed him. He fell to a fusillade of bullets.”


Calcutta, July 11: 
Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee clarified today that the introduction of Bengali as a compulsory subject for the state Public Service Commission examination will not apply to candidates in the three sub-divisions of Darjeeling district.

According to Writers’ Buildings sources, the clarification was issued as there was “some confusion” about candidates who wanted Nepali as a compulsory subject.

However, the chief minister said the government is “seriously considering” the introduction of Bengali in other parts of the state.

“The state government is very focused on introducing Bengali in the examination ever since it had introduced its use in official work,” a senior bureaucrat said.

Bengal, unlike states like Maharashtra, has allowed extensive use of English. With Bengali not being compulsory, candidates from other states could easily compete for the examination.

“The government feels that the entire staff should have a working knowledge of Bengali, though English can still be used to conduct business,” the bureaucrat added.


Calcutta, July 11: 
Power Finance Corporation has sanctioned Rs 280 crore to modernise the Bandel Thermal Power Station.

The power station, which was under the state electricity board, was transferred to the West Bengal Power Development Corporation Ltd on July 1.

The power station has five units: four 80 mw units and one 210 mw.

“Modernisation of the Bandel plant was pending for some time. We had approached financial institutions for funds,” a senior power department official said.

Power Development Corporation managing director B.K. Paul said: “The formal process of transferring the two power plants, Santaldih and Bandel, to the Power Development Corporation is currently going on. I know PFC has sanctioned the loan. Once the formalities are over, we will start modernising the Bandel plant.”

Paul said a study on manpower requirement will be carried out. “We may do the study on our own or we may appoint a consultant to carry out the exercise,” he said. Santaldih and Bandel employ 3,100 people.

Senior state electricity board officials feel the entire staff strength of Santaldih and Bandel cannot be transferred to Power Development Corporation as the latter has a 1.6 man/megawatt ratio.

Those who cannot be absorbed will be accommodated in phases in the state electricity board.

The state electricity board will clear the statutory dues — provident fund and gratuity — of the employees up to October this year. After that, it will be taken care of by the Power Development Corporation.

Employees will be given post-retirement benefits and their seniority will be recognised. “It will be scrutinised carefully before taking any decision,” state electricity board officials said.

However, a section of the employees has decided to take a legal opinion.


Calcutta, July 11: 
The rescued MV Laknam crew were today put up at Marine House in Haldia.

The 30-member crew reached Haldia port early today and were interrogated by intelligence officials. The Haipong-based cargo vessel, owned by the Vietnam Ocean Shipping Company, went down with its entire cargo on Tuesday at Sandheads around 5.45 pm.

Coast Guard officials said there was no spillage from the phosphate cargo. “In case there is a spillage, the port authorities will have to take care of it,” he added.

Coast Guard vessel CVS Ramadevi is monitoring the situation in Sandheads. “The ship has been loaded with all types of anti-pollution devices to tackle any untoward situation,” the spokesman added.


New Delhi, July 11: 
MBBS students will soon have a new internship course with a month-long training each in anaesthesia and paediatrics, two months each in general medicine and surgery and three months in preventive and social medicine.

The health minister said a restructured medical internship course would help to fill in gaps in the reproductive health system. The system, at present, is weighed down, among other factors, by the non-availability of anaesthetists in the primary health care system.

Making the announcement on the concluding day of the three-day population policy meeting, Union health minister C.P. Thakur said: “The Nursing Council of India has reviewed the course content and training requirements of health workers and recommended that the present duration of training should be enhanced from 18 months to two years.” He said the training of doctors and para-medical officers at present was out of step with the objectives of the national health programme.

On the world population day, policymakers in the governmental and non-governmental sectors today put their heads together and declared that the issue of reproductive health was inextricably linked with the overall health status of women. Though infant mortality rate has dipped, neo-natal mortality is still not under control — and it was the opinion of all that the health of the pregnant mother needed to be brought into focus. The more robust the mother, greater the possibility of the infant’s survival, it was felt.

The Centre, on its part, made it clear that the national population policy was against the use of coercion and holding out incentives or disincentives to keep the numbers down. “We know some of the states are doing it. We will not be able to stop them. But the Centre is totally against it,” said the health minister. In Andhra Pradesh, chief minister Chandrababu Naidu has been freely doling out incentives to promote the two-child norm —- so has the Gujarat government.

Nothing was said at the meeting that had not been said before. But the focus of the discussion at the national population meet was the dipping female sex ratio and a the soaring rate of female foeticide. “An imbalance in the population is even more devastating than population explosion,” said health secretary A.R. Nanda. The Centre is planning to amend the Pre-natal Diagnostic Act to expand its scope and give it more teeth. “We are in the process of finalising the amendments but they will not come in the forthcoming session of Parliament,” said Sabu George, an activist.

But the overall situation is not hopeless. So believes Aloke Mukhopadhyay of the Voluntary Health Association of India. “The Centre and some states at least are taking measures to improve access to health. Madhya Pradesh, for instance, has taken a paradigm shift in decentralising and handing over the health system to gram sabhas,’’ Mukhopadhyay said.

There is a growing realisation and an effort to implement the concept that reproductive health is not related just to contraception, but that it is essentially a convergence of health services and empowering women so that they can exercise a reproductive choice. This is why the government, in consultation with other associations of gynaecologists and paediatricians, has recommended an MBBS course that will gear doctors to tackle better the issue of reproductive health.

“The experts felt that a great deal of maternal and infant mortality can be reduced by improving obstetric care at the community level. It was suggested that several models of community-based care should be experimented with,” the health minister said.


New Delhi, July 11: 
Luck has smiled on Anaro who claimed that she was a maid in the Musharraf household some 54 years ago. She will be there to greet the Pakistan President when he visits his ancestral home, but the Golas — one of the haveli residents who had claimed Anaro had never worked for the Musharrafs — have not been so lucky. Only their mother Malti Gola has been handpicked to greet Pervez Musharraf when he drops in for a few minutes to refresh his memory.

Of the Jains — the other residents of the haveli — only two of the six-member family will be allowed to greet Musharraf.

A mushaira was supposed to be held in thehaveli to greet Musharraf. But the venue has now been shifted to nearby Mahavir Vatika at Daryaganj.

But the President will not be able to attend the joint Indo-Pak programme that former Prime Minister V.P. Singh will inaugurate. Pakistani shayyars Ahmed Faraaz, Mehmood Sham and Athar Javed will be present at the mushaira.

The timing of the President’s visit to the haveli has been changed, flushing lakhs of rupees down the drain. Because the entrance to the neighbourhood is dark, the government had fixed some street lights that cost Rs 3.45 lakh. But now Musharraf is scheduled to visit the haveli at three in the afternoon.

At the reception in the haveli, the President will be entertained to a rendition of a Ravi Shankar sitar piece. Residents and politicians have lined up mementoes to hand over to the President.

An intricately carved hexagonal wooden jewellery box with sketches of the Neharwali haveli and historic buildings such as the Jama Masjid, Qutb Minar and Taj Mahal engraved on its other sides is one of the gifts that will be given by Shoaib Iqbal, an Independent MLA who was involved in sprucing up Musharraf’s haveli.

The President will also be given a book penned by Sir Syed Ahmed Khan, the founder of Aligarh Muslim University. Sir Syed Ahmed Khan’s haveli stands close to Musharraf’s ancestral home.

Another book on Delhi and its heritage sites, including write-ups on important landmarks such as Mirza Ghalib’s haveli, will also be presented to the President.

Structure demolished

A portion of the Neharwali haveli was demolished this afternoon. The reason: to facilitate the entry of Musharraf to thehaveli.

Though the passage leading to the main haveli is 18 feet broad, orders came from the Lieutenant Governor’s office for the demolition of the structure.

Authorities claim security reasons were behind the demolition. They wanted the President’s car to reach the main gate of the haveli and the demolished portion was an obstruction.

The two-room structure, of which one room was destroyed today, is occupied by two children whose grandmother had purchased it in 1947. They lost their parents four years ago and their grandmother, who looked after them, died last year. The children have been promised reconstruction of the structure after the President’s visit.


Srinagar, July 11: 
Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Farooq Abdullah escaped another attempt on his life at Khanyar in downtown Srinagar after militants fired a rifle grenade.

A woman bystander died in the attack and five others, including two members of the paramilitary BSF, were wounded.

In another strike, militants shot dead the younger brother of ruling National Conference MP Abdul Rashid Shaheen at Pattan in northern Baramullah district.

The rifle grenade fired at Khanyar exploded minutes before Abdullah reached the venue of a meeting in connection with the first death anniversary of his mother, Begum Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah.

Militants had targeted the venue in the heavily-guarded locality encircled by paramilitary troops and policemen from early this morning. The grenade exploded on the road minutes before the chief minister passed through the area.

Police and paramilitary officials overseeing security arrangements in the area ordered searches. All roads leading to the venue were sealed by the troops immediately after the explosion.

In the other incident, militants fired several rounds from close range on Nazir Ahmad in the main Pattan market and fled, police said. Nazir, sources said, was rushed to hospital but died on the way.

Police and security forces rushed to the spot and cordoned off the area. Shaheen, who was away in Delhi, as rushed back. No one has yet claimed responsibility for the killing.

Addressing the meeting in the memory of his mother, Abdullah urged Pakistan to respond positively to the Indian initiative of “establishing visa centres at various places, including Uri”.


Washington, July 11: 
With India and Pakistan pulling in opposite directions on the agenda for the Agra summit, any hopes in Islamabad that the US would play a pro-active role during the Vajpayee-Musharraf meeting were conclusively dashed yesterday.

State department spokesman Richard Boucher told reporters that “we will leave the outcome (of the summit) to the Indian and Pakistani governments”.

Boucher’s statement represented a resounding rebuff to Pakistan’s ambassador here, Maleeha Lodhi, who has been engaged in a no-holds barred effort to get the Bush administration involved in the Agra proceedings.

Twice in the last fortnight, Lodhi has gone public with pleas to the US to intercede in the disputes between India and Pakistan. In addition, Pakistan’s large lobbying apparatus in the US has been working overtime with the same objective.

Addressing a meeting organised here last week by the Pakistan American Congress, the envoy said the US should make a “fair and friendly intercession” to sort out the Kashmir issue and end the “legacy of antagonism and distrust” in South Asia.

This week, speaking at the annual meeting in Chicago of the Association of Pakistani Physicians of North America, she said: “We know the US shares the objectives of peace and stability in South Asia. We hope it will play a helpful role in encouraging continued dialogue and the resolution of outstanding issues”.

Although Boucher effectively snubbed Lodhi by asserting that the Bush administration would not get involved in the Agra process, he made it clear that “the question of India and Pakistan and the issues that they are going to be dealing with are very important to them and to the US”.

He added: “We look forward to them establishing a base of cooperation for them to produce a more peaceful and stable situation in the region. And it is our hope that they will do that.”

The spokesman was asked if secretary of state Colin Powell had any views on the Agra summit in view of the interest he has recently been taking in South Asia.

Boucher pointedly remarked that Powell will be visiting the region only after the summit.

Asked if the US was offering any specific recommendations to the summiteers in Agra, he said: “I will leave that to our representatives in the field”, implying that no directives were going out from here to American envoys in New Delhi or Islamabad unlike during some Indo-Pakistan conclaves in the past.


Patna, July 11: 
The Rabri Devi government has run into sharp criticism from even its allies following its decision to hike the salary of ministers.

The Bihar Cabinet yesterday passed a proposal to increase the perks and allowances of ministers, the Speaker and the deputy Speaker.

In one go, the Cabinet has doubled the field allowances of ministers from Rs 6,000 to Rs 12,000 per month. Entertainment allowance has been hiked from Rs 5,000 to Rs 11,000 a month for Cabinet ministers and from Rs 4,500 to Rs 10,000 for ministers of state. The daily haltage allowance has also been increased.

The ministers get vehicles and fuel allowance, besides bodyguards and government employees as attendants.

According to sources, the government spends Rs 40 crore on its ministers and MLAs and the hike would put an additional burden of Rs 1.21 crore on the exchequer at a time when the state is yet to recover from the body blow of bifurcation.

“These are symptoms of a government that has grown a rhinoceros hide. In such a state of crisis, when the government cannot pay the salaries of employees, the ministers should have set an example before the people by taking less salary,” said Jagannath Mishra, a former chief minister.

The CPM, an ally of the RJD, also criticised the move. CPM legislator Ramdeo Verma said the timing of the hike was wrong. “This is not the time for luxury,” Verma said.

The current state of affairs proves that Verma is hardly off the mark. Municipal employees, who have not been paid the last six months, went on strike last week. The result is reeking roadsides as mountains of garbage have been piling up, sparking fears of an epidemic.

The cash crunch has hit road repair work. Salaries of health officers and government school teachers also could not be cleared.

Defending the salary-hike, excise minister and RJD national spokesman Shivanand Tiwari says Bihar’s economy is not in “such dire straits” that it cannot afford to bear an additional Rs 1.21 crore.

“Journalists need not worry about that,” he said.

Parliamentary affairs minister Ramchandra Purve says the hike in perks and allowances would help ministers take care of their needs while on tour.

Six months ago, a CAG audit had revealed how a section of legislators and ministers submitted fake tour bills for reimbursement.

Some MLAs even furnished bills for tours outside when they were in the state capital at that time.

The irregularities exposed both members of the treasury benches and the Opposition. In one case, a Cabinet minister withdrew allowances for a period when he had stopped holding the post.

Last year, the proposal to hike the salaries and allowances of MLAs had kicked off a controversy after Governor V.C. Pandey returned the recommendations twice without approving them.

A delegation of Opposition and treasury members had then met Pandey to pressurise him. The proposals were later cleared after they were tabled in the House and passed by voice vote.


New Delhi, July 11: 
The Congress today urged the government to hold talks with the All Parties Hurriyat Conference even as it expressed reservation on the Hurriyat leaders’ move to hold a “closed door” meeting with Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf at high commissioner Qazi Ashraf Jahangir’s tea party.

Congress leader Pranab Mukherjee articulated the Congress’ stand on the Hurriyat’s participation at the tea party, saying: “The party view is that we are going to join the tea party. The Hurriyat has been invited by the Pakistan High Commission and, therefore, this is much more than a tea party. Besides, it being a social get-together, the high commission has freedom to choose its guests.”

Mukherjee said he would consider the Agra summit a success if the two countries continued to dialogue, pointing out that a long-standing dispute like Kashmir could not be resolved in a few hours. About the Hurriyat, he said: “We consider them as one of us. The Congress has all along maintained that the government of India should hold negotiations with them.”

Mukherjee, however, said certain mechanisms had to be observed in bilateral meetings.

The Congress leader clarified that the invitation was extended to individual leaders and not to political parties as such. Sonia Gandhi, Manmohan Singh, Natwar Singh and Mukherjee have been invited from the Congress.

Party sources, however, made it clear that Sonia was unlikely to attend Qazi’s party. “She will be meeting Musharraf separately,” a senior leader said.

Mukherjee said all concerned parties should deal with Indo-Pak ties delicately so that it does not “rock” the boat of the peace process initiated by the two countries.

Manmohan on tea party

Senior Congress leader and former finance minister Manmohan Singh sees no harm in allowing Hurriyat leaders to meet Musharraf at the tea party, reports our special correspondent in Bangalore.


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