Anthrax deaths cast shadow on Garbeta
Few takers for space odyssey
Varsity closed after cricket battle
Student’s body recovered
Jaya scores minor victory
Cong speaks in two voices on astrology drive
Amma in business-as-usual show
Bill axe over Sushma fief
Spanner in I&B downsize
BJP trio flashes quit signal

Midnapore, Sept. 7: 
The anthrax fear looms large on Garbeta sub-division in Midnapore district following the death of four persons, who had allegedly eaten an anthrax-afflicted cow.

District director of health services Sujay Das, however, confirmed only two deaths saying that a few others have contacted the disease.

Health minister Suryakanta Mishra today held a meeting with Das and other officers from the health department to assess the situation. Das later told The Telegraph that there was nothing to worry about.

“We have already started vaccinating the cows. So far human beings are concerned, the disease is curable and there are antibiotics, including penicillin, to fight the disease,’’ he said.

District veterinary officer Ranjit Mondal said at least seven cows had died from anthrax and another 30 were suffering from the disease.

Doctors say the disease can strike anyone who comes in contact with the affected animal’s skin, flesh or excreta.

“Some people are suffering from anthrax but we are still not sure whether the recent death has been caused by the same disease. We have started an inquiry into the incident,’’ district chief medical officer K.M. Hussain said.

Mondal said the cow which had died a fortnight ago was dumped on a vacant land. “We apprehend that some people had consumed its flesh and contacted the disease. From there the disease has spread.”

People in four villages in the sub-division - Arsa, Sarga, Chandmura and Kadamdiha - have been affected by the disease. The anthrax fear has assumed such proportions that villagers have even stopped having cow milk. Cows are being removed to safer places to avoid infection. There is also a self-inflicted ban on sweets, thanks to anthrax.

Doctors and experts have advised people not to get panicky. Villagers are being informed through the public address system not to consume beef of any dead cow and to avoid coming in contact with anthrax-afflicted cows.

A team of doctors and veterinary surgeons is also camping in anthrax-prone areas in the district. A massive vaccination drive has been launched to prevent anthrax infection among the animal.


Burdwan, Sept. 7: 
The only planetarium in the state outside Calcutta is on the verge of closure because of little public interest.

Located at Ramna Maidan, the Meghnad Saha Planetarium and Space Science Centre, run by Burdwan University, is facing an acute funds crunch.

The authorities regretted that the planetarium, once Burdwan’s pride possession, has now become a burden. The planetarium has 90 seats, but not even 10 per cent are filled up on an average. “Sometimes we have to stop the show in the absence of an audience,” said Milan Chatterjee, registrar of the university and a member of the planetarium advisory committee.

“It is the only university in the country which can boast of a highly sophisticated planetarium. But because of financial constraints and a lack of audience, it is now gasping for life,” Chatterjee added.

Set up in 1994, the planetarium initially drew huge crowds with people from adjoining districts too visiting it regularly.

The main equipment, worth Rs 1.5 crore, was gifted by the Japanese government as part of the Indo-Japanese cultural exchange programme. The state government had sanctioned a grant of Rs 50 lakh. Besides, the Burdwan municipality, the zilla parishad and the people had also contributed generously.

Goto Optical Manufacturing Company of Japan had been entrusted with running the unit in the beginning. An advisory committee, comprising then MLA from Burdwan (now commerce and industry minister) Nirupam Sen, the vice-chancellor and the district magistrate, had been formed.

The Japanese firm was authorised to appoint employees. It ran the unit for three years according to the agreement. “But now it is history. People no longer seem to be interested in it,” regretted Arindam Sarkar, a spokesman for the planetarium. “I think people are no longer interested in such complex subjects like astronomy.”

Chatterjee said over Rs 4 lakh is spent on paying salaries to employees. The pay package had been finalised by the Japanese company and it cannot be reduced now. The government has also turned down an appeal to sanction additional grants to the planetarium.

“But we are not going to give up. We are exploring other possibilities to attract people. We have decided to appeal to various school, colleges and other institutions to encourage students to visit the planetarium on a regular basis. If we get their cooperation, I am hopeful we can turn around,” said Chatterjee. Besides, the authorities are considering making a fresh appeal to the government to come forward to save the planetarium.


Siliguri, Sept. 7: 
A cricket match that turned violent has led to the North Bengal University’s closure sine die with authorities asking students to vacate the hostels.

A “friendly” one-day match on Wednesday between students of the geography and commerce. departments of the university turned sour after a few controversial decisions. The battle spilled over to the boys’ hostel late that evening, leaving 15 injured, of whom two were hospitalised. A police picket has been posted on the campus.

“Trouble started following a dispute between the students of the geography and commerce departments, who were playing a cricket match. The students clashed again in the evening. The fight carried on till this afternoon,” said vice-chancellor Piyush Kanti Saha.

“At an emergency meeting today, the authorities decided to vacate the boys’ hostel and close the university sine die. We have asked all the students from the three boys’ hostel to go home.”

The vice-chancellor said a one-man commission will investigate the incident. Students said an argument during the match led to brawl between the two teams. Later students of the geography department went to the commerce hostel and started beating up the residents.


Chinsurah, Sept. 7: 
The body of a 14-year-old student, who had been missing since Monday, was recovered today.

Rajdip Bhattacharya, a class IX student of Aniruddha English Medium School near Bandel, did not return after he went for his coaching classes on Monday.

Police said the body, which was lying along a canal, had a strangulation marks on the neck. According to the police, it could be a case of homicide.

However, they are in the dark about the motive behind the murder. Rajdeep’s father, Bidyadhar, an employee of Ganges Jute Mill, said four students used to accompany his son to the coaching classes. He, however, was not sure whether they were behind the murder.

“I had lodged a complaint with the Chinsurah police. Now it is the duty of the police to arrest the people responsible for my son’s death,’’ Bidyadhar said.


New Delhi, Sept. 7: 
Tamil Nadu chief minister Jayalalitha has all but lost the race to meet the deadline of November 13 to get herself elected to the Assembly while winning a consolation victory in the Supreme Court today.

The court refused to transfer her Tansi land scam case to some other high court from Madras, though it changed the judge hearing the case.

A three-judge bench of Justices S.P. Bharucha, Brijesh Kumar and Ashok Bhan said the hearings will begin before a judge other than Justice R. Balasubramaniam who has already commenced the trial. But it rejected special prosecutor V.V. Venkatapathi and attorney-general Soli J. Sorabjee’s plea to transfer the case to another high court.

The apex court said it did not have any adverse remarks to make against Justice Balasubramaniam simply because the case was transferred to another judge. “Justice must not only be done but also be seen to be done,” it said.

Venkatapathi, advocate-general of the state during the Karunanidhi regime, sought transfer of the case to some other high court on grounds that a “fair and free” trial would not be possible in Madras High Court.

The Supreme Court said trial in the Tansi case shall begin not later than October 1 and the incoming chief justice of Madras High Court (there is only an acting chief justice now) will designate a different judge to hear the case.

This means the arguments will begin on October 1, depriving Jayalalitha of the opportunity to become an MLA before November 13, her counsel K.K. Venugopal contended, holding that the Election Commission would take about “a month-and-a-half or two” to hold a poll.

The judges said the order was “fair”, given the circumstances and that, if there was any further delay in constituting a single-member bench in Madras High Court, Jayalalitha had the “liberty” to move an urgent application in the apex court. The judges ordered that the Madras High Court registry should supply all records to Venkatapathi by September 18.

With this order, one round of the legal battle was over in the Tansi case, in which Jayalalitha was convicted for purchasing public property as chief minister during her previous tenure for a value much lower than even the government estimate.

The case against her appointment as chief minister is a different one and is being heard by a five-judge Constitution bench. In the Tansi case, Jayalalitha has appealed against her conviction.

Further arguments before the Constitution bench will start on Tuesday and are likely to be over by Friday, after which the bench will reserve its verdict. An adverse verdict in that case will unseat Jayalalitha but, if she gets relief in her appeal against the conviction, she will be able to contest an election.


New Delhi, Sept. 7: 
The Congress is diluting its opposition to “saffronisation” of education after Digvijay Singh and A.K. Antony mocked the very basis of the campaign against Murli Manohar Joshi’s drive to include vedic astrology and vedic rituals in undergraduate, degree and Ph.D programmes.

The party today endorsed the Madhya Pradesh chief minister’s view that “jyotir vigyan is the science of astronomy” even as a party spokesman reaffirmed faith in a resolution opposing University Grants Commission’s introduction of astrology in the science and arts faculty.

While Congress president Sonia Gandhi preferred to wait till tomorrow to take up the matter with Digvijay in Shahdol, the Left was outraged. The BJP, however, was delighted with the confusion in Congress ranks over the issue. “The main Opposition party has once again fallen between two stools,” a BJP leader said.

Union minister Sushma Swaraj “congratulated” Antony, saying “he is a wise man”. Antony had pooh-poohed the drive against “saffronisation” on grounds that it was a misnomer. “There is nothing wrong with the colour saffron. There are many persons who wear saffron robes but have nothing to do with the BJP,” he said, mocking the Left’s campaign.

The CPI reacted sharply against Digvijay and Antony for their “ambivalent” statements on astrology and saffronisation. CPI general secretary A.B. Bardhan said: “I condemn the way the two chief ministers have come out with their ambivalent statements. Just as Hindu and Hindutva are different, saffron robe is different from saffronisation drive.” He pointed out that the BJP’s saffronisation drive attempted to replace scientific, secular, forward-looking education with a conservative, obscure, backward educational system.

“The drive needs to be fought and checked and the ambivalent position taken by some Congress chief ministers deserves condemnation,” he said.

In Congress circles, there was a debate on what Digvijay and Antony had said. Sensing the mood in favour of Digvijay’s defence of astrology, the leadership decided not to oppose him in public. However, privately, senior leaders wondered how a “seasoned” person like him could make such remarks, especially after leading the campaign against the BJP on the Saraswati Vandana issue.

The Congress leadership is worried that the controversy will have a bearing on the Uttar Pradesh polls. “If we are seen backing Digvijay’s line, the minorities will desert us thinking that we are playing second fiddle to the BJP and if we go against it, the majority community will get further alienated,” an AICC office-bearer said.

A course on astrology has been introduced at Vikram University in Ujjain, Madhya Pradesh higher education minister Ratnesh Solomon told the Assembly today. In a written reply, Solomon said universities have received directives from the UGC to include astrology in their syllabus.

Eight universities in the state have not included astrology in their curriculum, the minister added.

Asked about the Congress’ stand on the inclusion of astrology in the UGC curriculum, Congress spokesman Anand Sharma said the party was opposed to it.

On Digvijay’s view that academic institutions should have the flexibility in choosing disciplines, he said: “That is also right.”


Chennai, Sept. 7: 
Tamil Nadu chief minister Jayalalitha, though subdued in the wake of the Supreme Court’s tough stance on her cases over the past couple of days, seems in no hurry to step down.

She attended the Assembly today after a three-day hiatus and convened an all-party meeting at the secretariat tomorrow, putting at rest speculation that she might step down before the apex court delivers its verdict on petitions challenging her appointment as chief minister.

The crucial meeting, to discuss Tamil Nadu’s course of action on the vexed Cauvery water issue, follows the monitoring committee’s failure in New Delhi yesterday to persuade Karnataka to release additional water to Tamil Nadu to save its standing paddy crop.

Announcing the meeting, PWD minister Dalavai Sundaram, who returned empty-handed from New Delhi, told the Assembly that Karnataka had released only 50.73 tmc-ft water till September 6 against the prescribed quantum of 113.93 tmc-ft according to the interim award of the river water tribunal. The minister added that the water in the Mettur reservoir would meet the requirements of the delta farmers of the state for just nine days.

Even as the mood in the ADMK camp was marked by sobriety, Jayalalitha put on a brave face and attended Assembly for a short while today. “I seek the blessings of our permanent chief minister who can overcome all obstacles,” said a minister in an indirect allusion to the apex court developments while moving demands for her ministry. But the brisk thumping of desks that usually follows such salutations to Amma was conspicuously absent.

In the surcharged political atmosphere in the state, considerable significance was attached to Jayalalitha’s confidante, Sasikala, calling on the Sankaracharya of the Kanchi Mutt, Jayendra Saraswati, in Kancheepuram this afternoon. Though the mutt remained mum, it is being described as a personal visit.

Fired by Jayalalitha’s presence in the Assembly, her flock tore into the Opposition DMK, resulting in noisy scenes and chaos for 30 minutes. Trouble erupted when DMK member Ashokan touted laying of cement roads in small villages as a singular achievement of his regime.

This provoked finance minister C. Ponnaiyan to mention a major “cement scam” under the DMK regime, resulting in a slanging match between the treasury and Opposition benches. DMK members demanded “proof” of the allegation that the local administration had asked government departments to buy cement from “one single private manufacturer” at exorbitant prices.

The tumult threatened to blow out of control when DMK member Paruthi Ilamvazhuthi tried to advance towards the Chair. The noise subsided only after Speaker K. Kalimuthu ruled that the finance minister’s allegation and its refutation by former DMK local administration minister K.S. Mani will go on record.

Jayalalitha kept her cool all through. Sporting a smile, she left the House to keep prior appointments, including one with representatives of the hotel industry. But as soon as news of the Supreme Court’s order to shift the Tansi case to another Madras High Court judge came in, a visibly upset Amma hurriedly left her office.


New Delhi, Sept. 7: 
ICE is going cold on Sushma Swaraj.

Even before the Convergence Bill — placed in Parliament last week on the last day of the monsoon session — is enacted, the minister finds much of her work hemmed in by the provisos of the Bill. So much so that questions are now being asked on how long it will be justified for the ministry of information and broadcasting to continue in its present shape.

“That is for the Prime Minister to decide. This question must be asked of him,” she retorted today with some indignation when asked if a convergence in the administration of the government was not an inevitability. Much of the work with which she is engaged at the moment is defined by what the Convergence Bill can take away.

Shortly after assuming charge earlier this year, Sushma Swaraj, addressing the economic editors’ conference, emphasised how ICE — Information, Communication and Entertainment — was on everybody’s lips. It also means, she said, that her ministry of information and broadcasting was now being converted into an economic ministry.

Today she cannot be sure that the ministry, as it is, will retain such importance.

Despite the spectre of convergence, Swaraj has been enthused with cheerful news from the Planning Commission. For the first time, she said today, an approach paper to the plan has mentioned “entertainment” as a growth sector. The approach paper was placed in the recent meeting of the National Development Council.

Whispers among minions in Shastri Bhavan, the office of the I&B ministry, have it that the ministry is getting “lighter”. This means that broadcasting will soon be out of its purview and maybe, it is suggested only half in jest, it might do well to consider a ministry (and minister) of I&E.

A bulk of the work supervised by the minister right now is taken up by the demands of the broadcasting sector. The minister announced today that she was setting up a task force led by the joint secretary (broadcasting) to prepare a report on the feasibility of conditional-access systems (CAS). Over the last fortnight, the minister met cable television operators, master-service operators and broadcasters — the cable television industry — who are mulling introduction of CAS that can allow viewers to pick and choose the channels they want to see and pay for.

But CAS and its modalities — powers over the whole of broadcasting — will move to the super-regulator, the Communications Commission of India (CCI), that the Convergence Bill proposes to set up. “At least we will have done the homework,” Swaraj says.

That cannot be a happy thought for the minister because she will have put in the hard work for another to enjoy the fruit.

Last week, almost within hours of the government placing the Convergence Bill in the Lok Sabha, Ram Vilas Paswan was moved out of communications and Pramod Mahajan was given the portfolio.


New Delhi, Sept. 7: 
Information and broadcasting minister Sushma Swaraj has told the finance ministry that she will redeploy and redefine the jobs under her ministry.

In July, the I & B ministry had sent a point-by-point rebuttal of the recommendations of the Expenditure Reforms Committee headed by K.P. Geethakrishnan. If the recommendations were accepted, the Centre’s wage bill of Rs 727 crore for that ministry would have been slashed by half.

“I am not against rightsizing. But there has to be a proper appreciation of the units under the I&B ministry. I do not think the recommendations were made after thoroughly understanding the roles and responsibilities of the media units,” Swaraj said today.

She said the report said that since television has a wide network, it has made other media units almost redundant. “This is not the real picture. Television reaches 70 million households, that is only a third of the population. Moreover, for television, you need electricity. Is electricity reaching everyone?”

The minister said it was absurd to even consider proposals to close down centres like the Indian Institute of Mass Communications, the Satyajit Ray Film and Television Institute and other such bodies that were training people for the booming entertainment industry. Neither was it feasible to wind up the Directorate of Film Festivals and hand over responsibility for running film festivals to the film industry.


New Delhi, Sept. 7: 
The disgruntled Delhi BJP troika of former chief ministers Madan Lal Khurana and Sahib Singh Verma and senior party leader V.K. Malhotra met party president K. Jana Krishnamurthi today and offered to step down from the organisational posts they hold.

Krishnamurthi, however, is reported to have rejected their offer, stressing that it was “not proper” to let down the party with just a few months left for the Delhi civic polls and the Punjab Assembly elections — in which Khurana and Verma are expected to play key roles. Khurana, Verma and Malhotra are expected to take a final decision after meeting Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee tomorrow.

The trio, which represents the “old guard” in the Delhi BJP, has felt marginalised because their claims for a Cabinet berth were not taken seriously by the high command. Verma went to the extent of claiming that the Prime Minister had promised him a central ministership in writing as a “quid pro quo” for relinquishing the Delhi chief minister’s post just before the 1998 Assembly elections.

They felt even more slighted when Jagmohan, who was considered a relative “newcomer” to the BJP, was given important posts. The last straw, however, was the induction of Chandni Chowk MP Vijay Goel, as a minister of state in the PMO, in the latest round of expansions.

Khurana, Malhotra and Verma were also irked when a section of the Delhi press held them responsible for shunting Jagmohan from the urban development ministry, allegedly in collusion with the builders’ lobby. In their meeting with Krishnamurthi, the three leaders clarified that they had nothing to do with Jagmohan’s removal, BJP sources said.

The leaders had said they were only interested in ensuring that the BJP’s “image” was not dented, in the run-up to the civic polls, because of the large-scale demolition of slums and unauthorised lower middle-class settlements by the former urban development minister. Jagmohan had also issued notices to “unauthorised” temples and gurdwaras — a move the three leaders emphasised would have further hurt the BJP’s prospects.

However, Delhi BJP sources said the resignation offer was a “pressure tactic” to extract a large share of tickets for their nominees. At present, the axis represented by Goel and Delhi unit president Mange Ram Garg controls the local BJP. Khurana and Malhotra represent the interests of Punjabis, who have increasingly felt marginalised by the BJP.


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