Boulder-or-fruit export poser
IIT date for astrology rivals
Gates guide in IT race
Elephants beat human hurdles
Son wants death for father’s killers in uniform
Divisions cloud fate of Lok Pal Bill
Foes join hands to fete Governor
Fury fails to fire up Booker judges
Sinha defends ex-UTI chief selection
Govt in the dock over syllabus saffronisation

Calcutta, Aug. 16: 
Concerned about reports that poor infrastructure at the border check-posts and the far-from-desirable law-and-order situation around them are preventing a higher growth-rate of exports to Bangladesh, the state government has set up a high-level committee to set things right.

Indian export to Bangladesh — a major chunk goes through the border check-posts in West Bengal — could “simply double” if the loopholes are plugged, feels the Federation of Indian Export Organisations (FIEO), constituted by the Union commerce ministry.

“We have been asking the state government to set up a committee that can take up cases of harassment and frame policies,” FIEO deputy director-general Tapan Chattopadhyay said.

Of the six border check-posts in Bengal, Petrapole near Bongaon in North 24-Parganas accounts for the highest exports: goods worth Rs 200 crore are exported every month through this check-post alone. The others account for export of goods worth around Rs 30 crore every month though the volume of exports through the check-posts at Hili in North Dinajpur and Mohdipur in Malda is increasing gradually, say officials.

But the increasing exports have not seen any corresponding improvement in infrastructure, feels the FIEO. “Perishable items, including fresh vegetables and fruits and marine, poultry and dairy products, form a huge chunk of the exports — they account for about one-fourth the total amount — but exporters every year lose crores of rupees because of the government’s lackadaisical attitude,” a senior FIEO official said.

Exporters say it’s the law-and-order problem in areas around the check-posts that is most worrying for Indo-Bangla trade. If boulders — which, obviously, don’t perish — are being exported by local toughs, then fruits from Himachal Pradesh — highly perishable — have to wait, say exporters.

Besides, there is the year-round extortion racket run by criminals living close to the border — transporters are forced to pay through the nose — which peaks during big festivals like Durga puja. Exporters allege that the thana-level policemen are either not interested in solving the problem or are less powerful than the extortionists.

But law and order is only one part of the problem that exporters face. The infrastructure at most border check-posts is appalling, the FIEO says. Only Petrapole has a computerised clearing-channel but that, too, is rendered unusable by the regular power-cuts, admit Writers’ Buildings officials.

None of the other check-posts has seen any modernisation, they say, and admit that the increasing trade through Hili and Mohdipur — exporters of perishable items which come from north India prefer them because of the distance they save vis-à-vis Petrapole — is becoming difficult to handle.

Their problems actually start the moment they go out of city limits or enter Bengal from other states, exporters’ representatives allege. “The roads are in a mess, especially after the rains, and the speed of transportation affects the health of perishable items,” senior FIEO officials say.


Kharagpur (Midnapore), Aug. 16: 
Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee and minister for human resources development Murli Manohar Joshi, who hold diametrically opposite views on introducing astrology as a subject in the state’s universities, will share a platform here on Saturday at the IIT’s golden jubilee celebrations.

While the Centre is adamant about including astrology as a subject, the West Bengal government is against it. School education minister Kanti Biswas has criticised the HRD ministry for its decision to upgrade the study of astrology.

The IIT campus is being spruced up for the celebrations. Buildings in the 600-hectare campus are being given a fresh coat of paint and the roads are being repaired. New neon lights have been installed along the 1,000-metre road from Puri Gate to Prem Bazar.

The year-long celebrations will be inaugurated at the Rabindranath Tagore open-air theatre, now covered with huge sheets of tarpaulin because of the rains. “All past and present students, teachers and other employees have been invited. Those who are living abroad have also been invited. The total number of invitees is around 6,000,” said S. Sahu, professor-in-charge of the golden jubilee inauguration programme.

He said after Joshi’s and Bhattacharjee’s addresses, a first-day postal cover and a compact disc containing all information about IIT Kharagpur will be released.


Calcutta, Aug. 16: 
The state government will rely on Microsoft India to keep pace with technological development and emerging trends in the field of information technology.

After signing a memorandum of understanding with the state government today, Microsoft India president Rajiv Nayer said the Seattle-based IT giant was committed to increasing the government’s efficiency.

The main areas where the company wants to focus is management of taxes, treasury, general finance and land reforms.

According to the pact which was signed by chief secretary Manish Gupta, Microsoft will:

Draw up an IT blueprint or a roadmap in consultation with the state government;

Participate in citizen interface projects after the state government identifies the departments that will participate;

Set up a Microsoft Certified Technical Education Centre for development and skill improvement for software engineers;

Be associated with state initiatives for setting up IT faculty training institutes;

Help the government in IT education in schools and colleges;

Set up a centre of excellence in collaboration with the state government where a core team will be trained to use Microsoft development tools for state government projects.

Nayer said there was a need to bridge the gap between the government and its citizens. In this field, Microsoft was ready to provide G2C (government to citizen) solutions.

“We have agreed to help the state government with innovative ideas for IT education for the masses,” Nayer said. Microsoft has promised to make strategic presentations on the flexible IT world every quarter to help the state government set targets and achieve goals.

State IT minister Manab Mukherjee said the MoU, which is valid for a year, will be put into effect as soon as possible. “Microsoft will decide on its priorities and act as an enabler in policy implementation,” Mukherjee said.

He said chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee has requested Nayer to extend an invitation to Microsoft chief software architect Bill Gates to visit Calcutta. Nayer in turn has invited Bhattacharjee to visit Seattle.

School fined: The chief judicial magistrate of Burdwan today fined the headmaster of St Xavier’s School and the driver of a school-bus Rs 750 each for disregarding Motor Vehicles Act rules.

School headmaster Father S. Nallail said he would obey the court’s verdict and pay the fine.

Some buses of the school were impounded by the district administration last week, forcing the school authorities to allege that it was done because they had refused admission to the DM’s daughter.


Midnapore, Aug. 16: 
Elephants have succeeded in outwitting human beings.

Convinced that the elephants — like every year — would not descend on West Bengal’s plains in Midnapore, Bankura and Purulia from their homes in Jharkhand’s hills before September, forest officials were planning elaborate arrangements to tackle them.

The elephants, however, have pre-empted the officials’ plans. Twenty-nine grown-up pachyderms, along with their cubs, entered the Kankrajhor forest and fanned out in the Ramgarh and Lalgarh areas even as officials were splitting hairs on how to translate their plans into action, district forest officer (Rupnarayanpur Range) Kajal Kumar Hazra said.

A meeting between chief conservator of forests (western range) A.K. Raha, conservator of forests Siddhartha Barari and all district forest officers and forest rangers has been called tomorrow in Garbeta to decide on immediate measures to prevent the situation from worsening.

Senior state forest department officials met minister Jogesh Barman last week at the Mandalpuskarini Bungalow to draw up a plan to prevent wild elephants from entering human habitats in this part of the state. They decided to take some new measures, including setting up electric fencing near Lalgarh over the Kansabati river to prevent the pachyderms from entering the fields of Midnapore, Bankura and Purulia.

The herds, however, entered the area much before officials could erect the electric fence.

The officials had also decided to bring Kunki elephants (trained females) from Assam to lure the male leaders of the herd and thus lead the entire herd in a safe direction and trap some elephants for training to transport tourists. “But these Kunkis arrived only today,” Hazra said.

The early entrance of so many wild elephants posed a problem for the forest department, officials said. The department would probably apply “shock therapy” — targeting them with tranquillisers — to send them back to Dalma again, they added.

More than 20 people were trampled to death by these wild pachyderms last year. More than 1,000 acres of crop were lost and hundreds of forest guards and rangers were either beaten up or gheraoed by angry villagers who felt that the forest department could not protect them or their property from elephants. Lakhs of rupees had to be spent on compensation to affected villagers in south Bengal.

Elephant menace in south Bengal is a new development. Earlier, it was restricted to north Bengal.


Mumbai, Aug. 16: 
Abdullah Kasim can still hear the thud of police boots, the crash of broken panes, the torrents of abuse, the crack of automatic fire and the searing screams of victims.

As Mumbai burned in the riots on the afternoon of January 9, 1993, Abdullah, then a 12-year-old student at Madrassa-e-Darul-Ulum-Imdadiya, was cowering in his classroom with other students.

The financial capital was under curfew and the students were mumbling their lessons to pass the time in a stuffy room on the second floor of the Chunabhatti mosque in the presence of Abul Kasim, the polio-stricken headmaster of the madrassa and Abdullah’s father.

Abdullah, suddenly, heard heavy footsteps approaching the room along a narrow verandah, which looked onto the mosque’s courtyard. “Open the door,’’ a voice barked in Hindi, as someone smashed the windowpanes to pieces.

As the teacher and the students wondered what to do, the policemen broke the door open and pointed their guns at the children.

“Tell us where you have hidden the guns. You have two minutes,” Abdullah recalled the policemen as saying.

Two policemen, with automatics, hit the headmaster with the butts, insisting that he was “a rioter in disguise”. As Abdullah watched in terror, the policemen dragged his father out and threw him down over the balcony. He shut his eyes. His father managed to survive, holding precariously onto the verandah’s guard rail. But, not for long.

The boy saw the policemen pull his father up and drag him away. Moments later, he heard a burst of automatic fire and the screams of his father. Two days later, he saw his “abba” lying in a morgue, one of the many corpses the riot claimed.

For the last eight years, Abdullah, now 20 and studying Arabic at the same madrassa, has been fighting the sound and the images stuck in his mind. But the memories of death, especially of his crippled father, are hard to shake.

By the time the policemen, led by joint commissioner of police R.D. Tyagi, left the mosque and the abutting Suleman bakery, where they had entered to “flush out” suspected rioters, eight people lay dead.

All the eight were “shot point-blank and in cold blood”, said Justice B.N. Srikrishna, in his report on the Bombay riots of December 1992 and January 1993, laying the blame squarely on Tyagi, who had overseen the “operation” in one of the biggest minority pockets in the financial capital.

The police had claimed that they retaliated after being fired upon by “miscreants” who had positioned themselves on the roof of the bakery and the mosque housing the madrassa.

The commission, in its report, dismissed the claims as a “pack of lies”. Not a single policeman was injured though the police claimed they had been “showered” with bullets. No arms were seized either, though 78 people were arrested. No spent cartridges were found except those fired by the police. The pockmarks on the mosque and bakery were found by the commission to have been caused by the police firing.

Tyagi was arrested in the intensive care unit of a city hospital on Tuesday night after the Supreme Court rejected his anticipatory bail petition. But today, no one was rejoicing at the madrassa, where many students and teachers had been beaten unconscious by the rampaging policemen.

The embers of anger still smoulder beneath the business-as-usual surface. “Arrest is not enough,” Abdullah said, his eyes flashing in anger. “When the policemen who are supposed to protect you kill your father, the officers responsible should be hanged if the state cannot kill them the way they killed my father.”

Abdus Sattar, owner of the Suleman bakery, agreed. “How can you say you are happy when the police officer who ordered five of my men killed is merely arrested,” he said. Sattar said the policemen under Tyagi broke through the door to the bakery, only to “shower” people inside with fire.

“They entered on the pretext that the bakery was harbouring rioters and anti-national elements, but failed to seize a single weapon inside or outside the bakery,” he said.


New Delhi, Aug. 16: 
The NDA government may have introduced the Lok Pal Bill in the Lok Sabha to show that it is serious about fighting corruption, but doubts have been raised on whether it will be passed in this session.

Sources said they were unsure whether it would be passed in the monsoon session or be kept in limbo as had happened six times since it was first brought into Parliament in 1969.

The Bill, in its present form, brings the Prime Minister, Union ministers and MPs within its ambit implying that any complaint filed against them will be looked into by the Lok Pal.

Sources admitted that the NDA was divided on passing the Bill in its present form. The differences surfaced when the Cabinet met to approve the legislation and a majority of the ministers present felt that the Prime Minister should be kept outside its purview. “In our country at least one post should be kept above the law. If the Prime Minister is not given extra protection from law, we should at least not allow the law to become a source of extra attack, most members felt,” sources said. But Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, who chaired the meeting, used his veto power and insisted on including the office of the Prime Minister as well.

The Samajwadi Party is believed to have objected to the inclusion of MPs. The Congress, which was earlier against including the Prime Minister, has apparently changed its position. “The Congress will support the Bill in its present form. Now that public opinion has gained momentum against corruption in high places, we cannot say no to bringing the Prime Minister within the Lok Pal’s ambit,” sources said.

Congress sources countered attempts made by a section of the NDA to propagate the view that the Opposition was still in favour of keeping the Prime Minister out. “Such a campaign the government thinks will help them find an alibi to stall the passage of the Bill because of differences within their own ranks,” party sources said.

The Congress’ main reservation is that there is no provision in the Bill to keep a check on the Lok Pal institution. “How will it be impeached? What happens in the event of a confrontation between the executive, Parliament and the judiciary?” asked sources.

Although the official position was that the Lok Pal Bill must be passed in this session, sources said it was most likely to be referred to a standing committee. “It is in the same position as the women’s reservation Bill. Everybody wants to have it passed and yet nobody wants it at the same time,” sources said.

The Prime Minister and his senior colleagues, including home minister L.K. Advani and external affairs and defence minister Jaswant Singh, are likely to hold a meeting to review the situation arising after the introduction of the Bill.

Sources said an all-party meeting might be convened in case a consensus eluded the government.

The Lok Sabha Business Advisory Committee, which met today in the Speaker’s chamber, decided that pending legislations would be cleared on Monday. The government expects to pass the Constitution Amendment Bill, seeking to freeze the delimitation of Lok Sabha constituencies until 2026, on Tuesday.

The House is likely to discuss the limited mobility issue involving the telecom ministry on Wednesday. Communications minister Ram Vilas Paswan has obtained letters from 10 chief ministers supporting his proposal, sources said. The House will discuss the disinvestment issue on Thursday.


New Delhi, Aug. 16: 
Who said oil and water do not mix?

All you had to do was attend West Bengal Governor Viren J. Shah’s 75th birthday celebrations in Delhi’s plush Taj Palace hotel to prove the proverb wrong. The Left mixed with the Right. The Right with Socialists and all of them with the industry’s celebrities.

Viren Shah was being feted by his friends —- the party hosted by his son. The committee of hosts included former prime ministers, virtually the entire NDA Cabinet and luminaries from the world of culture and films. “Almost the whole of CII is here,” said the hotel staff. Yogi Devehswar, ITC chairman from Calcutta, former CII president Rahul Bajaj, Aditya and S.K. Birla —— name the industry captain and he was there. “There are not too many industrialists from Calcutta after the flight of capital from the state,” quipped the CII staff who were helping out the hosts.

Parliamentary affairs minister Pramod Mahajan stood at the door receiving the guests. The Prime Minister was scheduled to arrive as the hum in the hall grew with the entrance of the Governor, clad in an exotic designer dhoti and kurta. His former colleagues from the BJP, the party he had represented in Parliament, came in droves —— so did the CPM MPs. Even the first head of the country’s intelligence agency RAW had turned up.

“I am one of those who have organised the party,” said Mahajan. George Fernandes and Jaya Jaitley played host to the guests who filled up the expansive Shah Jahan hall.

The diverse strains of conversation reflected the diverse gathering —— MPs Bhavna Chikalia of the BJP and Sarla Maheshwari from the CPM discussed the “situation” in Parliament —— how they were not getting a chance to push through the business agenda. Najma Heptullah, Rajya Sabha deputy chairperson, was telling Congress leader Manmohan Singh about her meeting with a delegation of Nigerian dignitaries who were here.

At a corner sat telecommunication minister Ram Vilas Paswan engaged in an animated conversation with leaders of the government. Former President R. Venkatraman staged a quiet entry and sat virtually unnoticed on a sofa.

It was left to Shah to lead him by the hand to the centre of the hall for a photo session.

Haryana chief minister Om Prakash Chuthala, next to Paswan, said his association with Shah was “more political than business”.

Shah’s colourful career graph was evident from the people who showed up not wanting to miss the event.

It was past 9 pm and the hotel was filled with Black Cats and SPG. They were waiting for the biggest cat of them all, Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee.


London, Aug. 16: 
Salman Rushdie’s latest novel, to be released at the end of the month, has left Booker judges cold and has been left out of the Prize’s long list.

The list includes V.S. Naipaul’s Half a Life and Manil Suri’s debut novel Death of Vishnu. The five judges, however, have rejected Rushdie’s Fury and are understood to have said that it “failed to reach his usual standard”.

The coveted Booker Prize, the most happening literary award in Britain which has feted Rushdie in the past with both the Booker Prize for Midnight’s Children in 1981 and the Booker of Bookers in 1993 and shortlisted nearly all his works, has decided to leave him out of the literary jamboree this time round.

Competing for the £21,000-prize this year will be veteran writers Beryl Bainbridge, Peter Carey, Nadine Gordimer, Nick Hornby, Ian McEwan, Marina Warner, Naipaul and Philip Pullman. The list of 24 authors and their works - the long list - was released for the first time this year to widen the field of the Booker Prize. It is usually the shortlist of six that is announced in September each year before the final prize ceremony in October.

Normally, all those on the short-list have a good run of publicity and sales of their books increase remarkably. This year, the writers on the long-list will also enjoy good sales.

Rushdie’s Fury is being promoted as a “novel of furious energy”, a study of the mid-life anger of a protagonist whose life, like its author’s, shuttles between India, Britain and the US. It is about Professor Malik Solanka who flees from his life in London, leaving behind his wife and their small son Asmaan for a new life in New York. In the Big Apple, he is smitten by the beautiful Neela, who can drive him to distraction.

The novel mirrors Rushdie’s personal life. He left Britain last year for life in New York with girlfriend Padma Lakshmi. Left behind in London were his wife Elizabeth and two-year-old son Milan. Fury is dedicated to Padma Lakshmi.

The Booker judges were not the only ones to be disappointed with Rushdie’s latest literary effort. The Times yesterday described the “tonal malaise” that afflicted his latest fiction. Like his previous work The Ground Beneath Her Feet, which didn’t quite take off, Fury has left critics cold.

“‘In his earlier novels Rushdie’s ability to make his readers suspend disbelief was unquestionable; characters could travel through time or fall from airplanes and live - no problem. In Fury, the magic touch has gone,” said Erica Wagner in The Times. “The novel, too, suffers from an over-schematisation that ill-suits its rambling nature,” she concluded, mourning that the novel’s failure was a loss to literature.

Publishers Jonathan Cape has refused to comment about Rushdie’s omission from the Booker hopefuls. The author is apparently not keen on pre-publication interviews this time.


New Delhi, Aug. 16: 
Finance minister Yashwant Sinha today told the Lok Sabha that the government had followed all procedures in the appointment of sacked UTI chief P.S. Subramanyam.

Sinha’s intervention, during zero hour, came after Opposition members, led by Priya Ranjan Das Munshi, Somnath Chatterjee and Chandra Shekhar sought a clarification on whether Subramanyam was made the trust’s chairman on ADMK chief Jayalalitha’s recommendation. The ADMK chief was then part of the National Democratic Alliance.

Das Munshi and others wanted more clarifications, but Sinha left the House soon after making the brief statement. The Congress chief whip later said the key point about NDA convener George Fernandes’ role in forwarding Jayalalitha’s recommendation to the Prime Minister’s Office had remained unanswered. Fernandes had recently said in Chennai that the ADMK boss had recommended the name of the disgraced UTI chief and that he himself had forwarded it to the PMO.

The government was initially reluctant to comment on Fernandes’ statement. It cited Rule 40 which says comments made by an MP outside Parliament can be answered only if a prior notice is given.


New Delhi, Aug. 16: 
Blasting the NDA government for its bid to saffronise education, Sonia Gandhi today cautioned human resources development minister Murli Manohar Joshi against substituting a “National Agenda” with “the hidden agenda”.

The Congress president also asked Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee to ensure that “his party’s agenda is not smuggled in through the backdoor”. Participating in a debate on saffronisation of education under Rule 193 in the Lok Sabha, Sonia said one should not be under the belief that no one is watching because “we are watching and we will not let the government get away with ideological sleights of hand”.

Led by senior CPM leader Somnath Chatterjee, who initiated the discussion, the Opposition slammed the government for trying to sneak its communal agenda into the school curriculum.

The Opposition said the government was trying to saffronise key institutions like the Indian Council of Historical Research, the Indian History Congress, the Indian Philosophical Congress, the Indian Institute of Advanced Studies, the NCERT, the UGC and the Archaeological Survey of India. The debate was marred by noisy interruptions between the treasury benches and the Opposition. It touched a new low when BJP members Lalmuni Chaube and V.K. Malhotra dragged in the late N.C. Chatterjee, father of Somnath Chatterjee into the debate, to score political points.

Only one third of the members were present when the debate started and, in about two hours time only 23 members, apart from Joshi, were present on the treasury benches, while Sonia Gandhi and 28 other members were in the Opposition side. The NDA allies, too, were disinterested. There was only one member from the Telugu Desam Party and the DMK, three from the BJD, two from the Shiv Sena and the Janata Dal (United) and four from the Samata Party when the discussion began.

In an obvious bid to counter Chatterjee, who had earlier taken on the human resources ministry for “poisoning” young minds with distorted history books, BJP leaders said N.C. Chatterjee was a member of the Hindu Mahasabha. A visibly agitated Chatterjee countered saying that his father had resigned from the Hindu Mahasabha after Independence and contested and won as an Independent twice with the support of communists.

In a bid to drive a wedge between the Congress the CPM, Malhotra said it was the communists who opposed the 1942 Quit India movement of the Congress and now the latter was supporting the left parties.

He said the NCERT recommendations on education were based on the suggestions made by the parliamentary standing committee on education and wondered why the Opposition was against it.


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