Surgery in medical set-up
CPI arm mounts pressure for PF dues
Panja challenge on student support
2 in treasury scam net
Infotech push to farmers
Suicide killers storm police nerve-centre
Pramod pill to rescue UP
Second thoughts on Tejpal FIR
Ex-MLA family clubbed to death
From fighting police to battling cancer

 
 
SURGERY IN MEDICAL SET-UP 
 
 
BY OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Calcutta, Aug. 24: 
On the eve of its 100th day in office, Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s New Left government came good on its promise of starting a health sector clean-up.

It made sweeping changes in the administrative set-up in its seven teaching hospitals, five of which are located in the city.

Health minister Suryakanta Mishra announced that principals will henceforth be in overall administrative charge of the medical college hospitals. Superintendents will look after patient facilities.

The health department will also conduct a patient satisfaction survey according to which the hospitals will be graded.

The decisions follow the chief minister’s insistence that Mishra must meet hospital superintendents and principals to implement reforms in the health sector.

The minister had earlier dissolved the managing committees of the medical college hospitals to usher in greater “transparency” in their administration.

“Our aim is to improve the way these hospitals function and focus on the attention given to patients,” he said.

A few months ago, the government had received a recommendation from the Medical Council of India to introduce a one-umbrella system for hospital governance. “There is no need to separate teaching and administration of the hospitals. This will ensure that people running the show have more powers,” Mishra explained.

Some of the steps that the health department will introduce in the teaching hospitals are:

Modernise the staffing pattern so that posts are used optimally

Use information technology in diagnostic and administrative work

Set up fair price shops in the hospitals that will sell medicines as well as therapeutic equipment

Make mandatory regular interaction between doctors and patients’ relatives

Heads of the hospitals have been given a month to come up with more suggestions on improving patient care facilities. “You can expect more government orders that will help raise the medical standards we provide,” Mishra said.

The minister also made it clear that the hospitals would have to be transparent on admissions to various wards. “There will be electronic display of the availability of beds in each hospital,” he said.

The hospital heads stressed on the need for overall cleanliness and the availability of safe drinking water. They debated the introduction of private agencies to maintain cleanliness as was done recently at SSKM Hospital.

After the eviction of illegal settlers from the NRS medical college campus, Mishra had stated that all hospitals will be rid of these shanties.

Moreover, the health department will soon begin weeding out doctors and employees who have been occupying staff quarters even after retirement or transfer, he added.

Bhattacharjee’s proposal that a dress code be introduced for hospital staff also came up for discussion. Mishra said the chief minister wanted doctors to display badges and the general staff to turn out properly.

   

 
 
CPI ARM MOUNTS PRESSURE FOR PF DUES 
 
 
BY OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Calcutta, Aug. 24: 
The CPI’s labour arm, Aituc, today demanded that the state government set up a separate cell, under direct supervision of the Union labour ministry, for recovering provident fund dues from employers in West Bengal.

Aituc general secretary K.L. Mahendra and Bengal Aituc general secretary Gurudas Dasgupta said at a news conference that an amendment of the existing Provident Fund Act was needed to ensure rigorous enforcement of the law and prevent default.

Mahendra and Dasgupta said Bengal heads the provident fund defaulters’ list. “In Bengal the total amount of default is more than Rs 700 crore. The total default in 2000-2001 is Rs 309.23 crore. There are about 16 lakh beneficiaries,” they said.

The Aituc leaders said the defaulters include state-run NJMC units, Hindusthan Cables, Hindusthan Fertilizer, Braithwaite, Burn Standard, Jessop, Tyre Corporation and Tea Trading Company.

“Violation of PF has become most rampant in West Bengal. The jute industry is the largest defaulter, closely followed by the central public sector undertakings. Even the state PSUs are no exception. The PF Act is hardly enforced in the small-scale units. Contract and casual labour are always kept out of the PF’s orbit. Violation is most common in the unorganised sector and private schools are also found to be violate the law,” Dasgupta said.

The Aituc leader said an anti-corruption wing of the PF organisation should be set up to weed out malpractices. State police also should evolve a special mechanism for unhindered investigation of the cases.

“The state government should approach the Chief Justice of Calcutta High Court for setting up a separate bench so that cases do not pile up,” he added.

As part of a movement to create awareness against provident fund default, the Aituc is organising a seminar at Sisir Mancha tomorrow, which will be addressed by central PF commissioner Ajoy Singh and Pradyumna Singh, member of the board of trustees, besides Mahendra.

Dasgupta urged all central trade unions to come together in Bengal and formulate a joint strategy to create an effective movement for better enforcement of provident fund laws, realisation of dues and for proper penal action against defaulters. Criticising the Union labour ministry, Mahendra said it was deliberating on amendments of labour laws to carry forward the “hire and fire” policy, instead of evolving mechanisms to stem provident fund default.

“It (the Union labour ministry) has no time to consider suitable amendments in the PF Act. The government has not taken steps for the rigorous enforcement of the Employees’ Provident Fund Act,” he said.

   

 
 
PANJA CHALLENGE ON STUDENT SUPPORT 
 
 
BY OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Calcutta, Aug. 24: 
Suspended Trinamul Congress MP Ajit Panja today ruled out any reconciliation with Mamata Banerjee.

“Reconciliation is possible only with sane people, but Mamata lacks sanity,” Panja said this afternoon. He added that she had not changed a bit even after the humiliating defeat in the Assembly elections. “Mamata is erratic, whimsical and intolerant as usual,” he observed.

Panja today announced that he would organise a programme on August 28 to observe the foundation day of the Chhatra Parishad at Sarat Sadan in Howrah. A similar programme will be organised by Mamata at the University Institute hall the same day. On August 9, too, Panja organised a programme at Mahajati Sadan to counter Mamata’s Martyrs’ Day programme at Esplanade.

“We have nothing against Mamata’s programme. But we want to prove that students are with us,” Panja said. He charged Mamata and her workers with threatening those willing to join “our programme”.

Panja again lashed out at Mamata for “telling lies” about her withdrawal from the NDA. “She never left the NDA and was with the coalition even as she had tied up with the Congress before the Assembly elections,” he added.

Observers feel Panja is convinced that Mamata’s re-entry to the NDA is a fait accompli and is keen on getting expelled from the party so that he could join the Cabinet as independent MP. “Panja’s ire is directed against Mamata so that she is provoked to expel him before the NDA meets to decide her return to the coalition. But we are not going to expel him only to pave the way for his rehabilitation in the central coalition,” said a Trinamul leader close to Mamata.

Panja felt that Mamata is a “spent force” and has lost her capability to lead the party to face the challenges of the CPM. “I believe that bad days are ahead for the Trinamul Congress if Mamata continues to wield her clout on the organisation,” he added.

Asked if he would welcome Mamata’s re-induction, a smiling Panja said: “I must welcome it if Mamata is made a minister because this is expected. She was with the NDA and is still with it.”

Trinamul Congress MLAs and other party functionaries, meanwhile, staged a day-long dharna in front of the Gandhi statue today criticising the CPM for the deteriorating law and order situation in Bengal.

   

 
 
2 IN TREASURY SCAM NET 
 
 
FROM PROBIR PRAMANIK
 
Siliguri, Aug. 24: 
Toofangunj police have arrested two employees of the state animal resource development department in connection with a scam of several lakhs of rupees in the sub-divisional treasury.

The West Bengal AG has rushed a team of senior officials to Toofangunj for an on-the-spot inquiry.

“Police on Wednesday arrested two employees of the Toofangunj treasury, belonging to the state animal resources development department, for their alleged involvement in withdrawal of huge amount of money by producing false provident fund accounts and fodder bills,” said Toofangunj sub-divisional officer (SDO) Tapan Kumar Burman.

Four other employees of the Toofangunj treasury have been issued show-cause notices in this connection.

“Though three of the employees have replied to the notices, the fourth has neither done so nor attended office. It has been presumed that he is absconding. The police are on the lookout for the employee,” the SDO said.

“At least three employees of the state animal resource development department are involved in the scam. For the past few months, they were withdrawing money from the treasury by producing forged provident fund documents. The scamsters were also involved in withdrawing a lot of money by producing fake animal fodder bills,” Burman added.

“The scam came to light early in July after the Bengal AG detected financial discrepancies worth Rs 1.2 lakh. The deputy director of the state animal resource development then lodged a complaint with the local police, following which the latter arrested an employee of Toofangunj block number two last week. On Wednesday, another employee was arrested by the police in connection with the scam,” the SDO said.

Further investigations by AG Bengal sleuths revealed more discrepancies of Rs 12.7 lakh. Rabindra Nath Chakraborty and Shibabrata Biswas, arrested in this connection, apparently forged several provident fund accounts and withdrew more than Rs 1 lakh from the treasury.

Later, false animal fodder bills worth Rs 7 lakh were produced over a period of three months, the SDO said.

   

 
 
INFOTECH PUSH TO FARMERS 
 
 
BY DEVADEEP PUROHIT
 
Calcutta, Aug. 24: 
If its e-choupal for soya farmers in Madhya Pradesh, coffee planters in Karnataka and aquaculturists in Andhra Pradesh, its Krishi Angan in West Bengal. In line with its policy of modernising agriculture, the Bengal government is all set to create an agriculture portal to help farmers, and taking this technology to the farmers will be IT majors Wipro and ITC Infotech.

Officials from the two companies met state information technology minister Manab Mukherjee today to make a formal presentation of the product prototype. The prototype was developed on the basis of a study on agriculture systems and agri-marketing patterns in four districts of south Bengal.

“ITC Infotech runs similar portals and directly procures agriculture produce from farmers in Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh. However, the government has asked them to develop a customised solution for West Bengal, as the concept of mandi doesn’t exist in this state,” said sources in Writers’ Buildings.

The proposed portal will contain information on crop prices in various markets “within and outside the state” and will regularly bring out “demand and supply forecasts” for different crops to help rural farmers take “commercially viable decisions”.

It will also contain information on best cultivation practices, availability of cold storage facilities in different districts, weather forecasts, crop diseases and several other factors.

To make the maximum usage of the information available on the portal, the state government has decided to set up kiosks in villages, which will be connected through the West Bengal StateWide Area Network. According to sources in Writers’ Buildings, though the government has not fixed any timeframe, the project will be pushed through “in the shortest possible time” in view of the chief minister’s interest in it.

“Initially, a pilot study will be conducted in Burdwan and Cooch Behar districts. Based on the experiences of that study and the recommendations from the agri-marketing department, necessary changes will be incorporated. The system will then be taken to other parts of the state,” said an IT ministry official.

The revenue model for the English-Bengali portal has already been worked out. “Though the profits will not be very high, we are sure that it will be viable,” said government officials. Initially, the portal is expected to draw advertisements from fertiliser companies and cold-storage operators.

“West Bengal is a net exporter of agricultural produce and, in future, there will be trading over the portal. Once e-commerce starts, the system will sustain itself,” said an official who was present at the meeting.

   

 
 
SUICIDE KILLERS STORM POLICE NERVE-CENTRE 
 
 
FROM MUKHTAR AHMAD
 
Srinagar, Aug. 24: 
Weeks after the government brought the whole of Jammu under the Disturbed Areas Act, a suicide squad of the Lashkar-e-Toiba stormed a police station in Poonch last night and gunned down eight men on duty.

Police sources said two fidayeens (suicide killers) clad in army fatigues forced their way into the heavily-guarded police station in the heart of Poonch, in Jammu, around midnight after killing the guard stationed outside.

Once inside, the assassins hurled grenades and then fired indiscriminately from their automatic weapons, pulverising the men on duty. “Six policemen died on the spot while another, who was seriously wounded, succumbed to injuries in hospital,” said a senior police officer.

The two militants escaped under the cover of darkness.

As news spread of the daring raid, reinforcements of police and security forces were rushed to the spot. A massive operation was mounted to nab the killers but till late tonight, no arrests had been made. Sources said army troops conducted searches in and around Poonch and the operation was continuing when reports last came in. The Lashkar-e-Toiba, which has vowed to step up the heat on security forces in Jammu and Kashmir, has claimed responsibility for the attack.

The attack has shocked the police top brass in the state as the police station is in the heavily-guarded area where offices and residences of top district administration officials are located.

The sources said instructions have been given to the districts to tighten security around police stations.

Earlier this month, the Centre had decided to extend the Armed Forces (J and K) Special Powers Act, 1990, to the four districts of Kathua, Doda, Jammu and Udhampur in Jammu to stop the wave of killings following the fruitless Agra summit.

Elsewhere in the state, three army soldiers, including a junior commissioned officer, were killed and two wounded in a fierce gunbattle at Supwal on the outskirts of Jammu city. The gunbattle broke out during a cordon-and-search operation in the jungles outside the city.

Sources said militants rained bullets on troops who had surrounded the forest after receiving information that militants were holed up in Supwal. The gunbattle continued through the night. The entire area was combed today. However, police sources said the militants managed to escape.

No to amnesty

The National Conference government has said it will not adopt a plan to grant amnesty to members of the security forces accused of human rights violations while battling rebels, add agencies.

Earlier this week, Union home minister L.K. Advani had said Delhi was considering a plan to grant amnesty to security personnel fighting militants across the country. But Ali Mohammad Sagar, minister for works in the state government, ruled out the state adopting any such amnesty plan.

   

 
 
PRAMOD PILL TO RESCUE UP 
 
 
FROM RADHIKA RAMASESHAN
 
New Delhi, Aug. 24: 
Infotech and parliamentary affairs minister Pramod Mahajan is likely to be involved in strategy formulation and campaign planning for the Uttar Pradesh elections “in a big way”, BJP sources said.

A high-level meeting called by Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee tomorrow — to which Mahajan was also invited — was supposed to signal his role to the leadership and the rank-and-file, but it was suddenly called off tonight.

BJP sources said the services of Mahajan, who has been looking after Maharashtra, have been enlisted for Uttar Pradesh for two reasons. “The first, of course, is fund-raising and the second to mobilise workers from Maharashtra,” explained a BJP functionary.

His explanation was an indirect admission of the Uttar Pradesh leadership’s failure to galvanise the local cadre who have been steadily getting alienated from the powers-that-be which has forced them to turn to Maharashtra to fill in the gaps.

In the 1996 elections, the BJP had lined up Mahajan as an Uttar Pradesh strategist. But then chief minister Kalyan Singh had opposed his entry. “However, the situation is different today. Rajnath Singh (the present chief minister) of 2001 is not even half as strong as the Kalyan Singh of 1996,” said a senior BJP office-bearer.

Sources conceded that the initial hype over Rajnath’s ability to retrieve the base lost by the BJP during the last days of Kalyan’s rule and throughout Ram Prakash Gupta’s was wearing thin. “Our feedback is that his own Thakur caste-fellows did not vote for the BJP in the recent byelections,” said an Uttar Pradesh minister. He claimed that though Rajnath had made nine helicopter trips to Shahjahanpur during the Lok Sabha bypoll four months ago and addressed over 90 meetings, barely one per cent of the constituency’s 1,50,000 Thakurs had voted for the BJP. “After all the effort, we finished fourth,” the minister remarked. The story was repeated in the Sadabad Assembly seat, he added.

Questions were raised within the state BJP itself over the political viability of important announcements made by Rajnath recently with an eye on the elections. For instance, his decision to bring teachers within the ambit of the Fifth Pay Commission’s recommendations was treated sceptically by BJP sources who pointed out that many teachers had not been paid their regular salaries for months. “Where is the money to give them the increments?” they asked.

The move to carve out a separate reservation sub-quota for the most backward castes out of the 27 per cent slot meant for OBCs was unlikely to work on the ground, claimed BJP sources.

“It took 25 years of persistent struggle for the upwardly mobile backward castes to produce a well-defined line of leadership that included Mulayam Singh, Ram Naresh Yadav, Laloo Yadav and Kalyan Singh. These leaders belong to the economically well-off castes. The MBCs are small in number and have meagre economic means. What does reservation mean to them? Just an empty phrase,” the sources explained.

   

 
 
SECOND THOUGHTS ON TEJPAL FIR 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Aug. 24: 
The National Democratic Alliance appears to be rethinking its decision to file an FIR against Tehelka editor Tarun Tejpal for using prostitutes to trap army officers during its sting operation.

Sources said some leaders are of the view that if an FIR is filed against Tejpal, the Opposition might file FIRs against Bangaru Laxman and Jaya Jaitly, the former presidents of the BJP and the Samata Party who were forced to quit after the website’s revelations.

After the leak of the secret tapes showing use of prostitutes as honeytrap was published in a national daily, some NDA leaders had demanded Tejpal’s arrest, saying he violated the Suppression of Immoral Traffic Act (SITA). Later, it was decided that BJP Rajya Sabha MP Ravi Shankar Prasad and Samata Party Lok Sabha MP Raghunath Jha would file an FIR against Tejpal.

Sources said George Fernandes, who quit as defence minister in the wake of the first round of the Tehelka revelations, today held a meeting with officials and others concerned with the exposé at his residence. The Samata leader, they said, is likely to brief the NDA on Monday on the portal’s violation of the immoral traffic Act and the kind of action the government can initiate against Tejpal.

The sources added that it was a case fraught with legal and political ramifications and that it was not advisable to go ahead with the FIR for the time being. Prasad, however, said an offence under Section 5 of SITA had been committed and that Tejpal himself had admitted that he had used the services of women. According to the sources, the opinion of the solicitor-general and other law officers was likely to be taken on whether a case could be made out against Tehelka.

Yesterday, parliamentary affairs minister Pramod Mahajan had announced in the Lok Sabha that the home ministry would conduct an inquiry to find out if the portal had violated the law.

Suspecting that the home ministry inquiry was a ploy to buy time, agitated Samata leaders insisted that there was no need for a probe as Tejpal himself had admitted that the portal had supplied prostitutes to the army officers.

   

 
 
EX-MLA FAMILY CLUBBED TO DEATH 
 
 
FROM GAJINDER SINGH
 
Chandigarh, Aug. 24: 
Former Independent MLA of Haryana Relu Ram Punia and seven family members were beaten to death by unidentified persons at their farmhouse near Litani bypass in Hissar district last night.

The mutilated bodies were discovered by villagers who entered the house after Punia and his family members failed to show up at the place where villagers gather in the morning. Punia had represented the Barwala constituency in 1996.

Hissar superintendent of police Rajpal Singh said iron rods were used to kill Punia, his wife Krishna, daughter Priyanka, son Sunil, the latter’s wife and their three children.

“Preliminary investigations point to a family feud. But we are exploring all angles. Another of Sunil’s daughters, Sonia, who was rushed to hospital by the villagers, is in a critical condition. She holds the key to the killings. There was a party in the house last night and we are gathering information about the invitees,” Singh said.

Expressing shock and grief over the murders, chief minister Om Prakash Chautala said the government stood by members of the bereaved family.

“The culprits will not be spared,” he said in a message. Chautala, who was informed about the incident in the morning, has directed the police to probe the killings. He is scheduled to visit the village late in the evening or early tomorrow morning.

Senior district and state officials have rushed to the spot. A district official, camping at the site, said: “The killers came with the aim to eliminate the family. It seems to be an inside job. There are signs of resistance by the victims, but only a thorough investigation will throw more light on the incident. Injuries are not only on the head but all over the body. The only survivor, Sonia, who is battling for life, is our clue to the gruesome killings.”

He said by taking Sonia to hospital the villagers have helped save the life of the key witness.

Haryana Congress chief Bhupinder Singh Hooda said the incident pointed to the crime spiral in the state.

Offering condolences to the bereaved family, Hooda said: “It is a shocking incident and should be condemned. But at the same time it is a reflection of the growing crime rate in the state. Criminals are finding ready shelter under the Chautala regime in the state. The government is also releasing criminals convicted in murder cases.”

   

 
 
FROM FIGHTING POLICE TO BATTLING CANCER 
 
 
FROM DEBASHIS BHATTACHARYYA
 
Mumbai, Aug. 24: 
His eyes are not blazing. His voice is as quiet as the gun he handed over to the authorities two decades ago.

Bandit King Malkhan Singh is no longer fighting police. Down with cancer, he is fighting for life.

“All I have learnt in my life is how to fight. Earlier, it was the police, now it’s cancer. I never give up,” said the 54-year-old ex-bandit from Chambal, undergoing treatment for throat cancer at Tata Memorial Hospital.

In 1980, Malkhan and his gang headed the list of most-wanted bandits in the ravines of Madhya Pradesh, with more than 100 crimes listed against them.

Nearly two decades after he turned himself over and served a six-year jail term, it’s difficult to tell him from the other patients at the hospital, waiting patiently for their turn to see a doctor.

A grey handlebar moustache is all that is left of his deadly past. The khaki uniform that he wore with a police superintendent’s pips on the shoulders and his famous notepapers headed Bandit King are now part of the memories he would rather forget or not talk about.

For Malkhan, conversation, in itself, is a struggle — his voice choked by the debilitating disease. He still made an effort to make himself heard.

Malkhan said he was the only bandit to have his own notepapers which he used to issue threats and demand ransom. An adept kidnapper, he found that “kidnapping was less risky and more profitable than robbery”. But he always used “murder” as the weapon of “terror and revenge”.

He gave up his guns in June 1982, forsaking a life of crime.

The change of heart came after he saw the grisly end of another dreaded bandit of the time, Chabiram. After police put on display the corpses of Chabiram and 11 of his men, all shot dead, in the town of Mainpuri in the early ’80s, Malkhan decided to surrender, knowing nemesis would otherwise catch up with him. “He did not want to end up full of bullet holes but wanted to return home to his family,” his nephew, Anil Kumar, said.

Released from jail, Malkhan headed home in Rajasthan’s Dholpur, in search of a life not on the run. He spent the last 13 years cooped up at home. “He loves to stay at home and look after his family. Maybe, he was tired of spending so many years on the run,” Kumar said.

In May, Malkhan broke his back in a fall and was admitted to a hospital in Agra for an operation. It was there that doctors diagnosed that he was suffering from cancer.

“He had trouble eating and coughed constantly even when he did not have a cold. He was tested and found suffering from cancer,” his son, Virender, said.

Virender and Anil accompanied him to Mumbai, where he landed on July 3. “I have come to Mumbai in the hope that I will get better. I want to return to Rajasthan and to my family,” Malkhan said.

The once-dreaded bandit has changed so much in the last decade that even doctors treating him could not recognise him.

“I never knew he was a bandit. He appeared so pleasant and well-mannered,” Dr K.A. Dinshaw, head of Tata Memorial Hospital, said. “In any case, it would not have made any difference. For me, he is one of my patients.”

   
 

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