Hungry sink in cash quicksand
UP future makes Cong hug astrology
In Buddha’s Bengal, Basu strikes a blow for old habit
Son vs father in Congress Kerala soap
Boy feasts on toads, scorpions
DMK blow to Jaya team on Atal mission
From M.R. Venkatesh
Krishna finds IT minister at IIM
Floods claim 250 in eastern UP
Calcutta Weather

 
 
HUNGRY SINK IN CASH QUICKSAND 
 
 
FROM DEBABRATA MOHANTY
 
Kashipur (Raygada), Sept. 9: 
For Singari Majhi of Bilamal village, Rs 10,000 is no small amount. But then for Singari, whose husband Sada Majhi fell to the toxic diet of mango kernel and ragi in the second week of August, Rs 10,000 may not actually mean anything.

Singari, who had received Rs 20,000 as ex gratia in the wake of “starvation” deaths in her family, has already spent half of it on feasts for neighbours and other such matters.

The rest of the money given by the Orissa government would have been spent as easily if it had not been put in a nearby post office in the name of Singari’s granddaughter.

The politics of aid is as cold-hearted as the economics of hunger. If economics is keeping bursting grain silos away from the hungry, political expediency to rush cash to those with no knowledge of resource management is defeating the Orissa government’s damage-control scramble in Kashipur.

Keen to ride out a storm touched off by charges of starvation deaths, the state government doled out the customary “ex gratia”, little realising that the money is going down a black hole of ignorance.

The same blind benevolence had spurred the government to hand over Rs 20,000 to Singari following four deaths in the family. Along with her husband Sada, the mango kernel had claimed their sons Suruta Majhi and Pailo Majhi and Pailo’s wife, Sulemi.

Poorer by Rs 10,000 in less than a month, Singari is not aware of the damage from her profligacy.

Her husband, Sada, was as unlettered in the ways money disappears.

Before the tragedy, his name figured on the APL (above poverty line) list. Sada and his four brothers had received Rs 80,000 against the four acres acquired by Utkal Alumina for setting up a plant three years ago.

Sada, who had a share of Rs 16,000, a princely sum for the tribals here, spent the money in less than a year with no discernible change in the family’s standard of living.

With four deaths in the family, and very little to eat except a few kilos of rice at home, Singari, like other poor tribals of the region, had not grown any smarter.

In Panasguda village, an impoverished Biswanath Majhi has already spent Rs 2,500 in a month from the Rs 10,000 he had received from the government on feasting and drinking. But Biswanath — who lost his wife and mother in the tragedy — says he has spent the money on buying milk for his little son.

While these tribals may not have taken any money-lessons from the tragedy, the government is again promising what it cannot deliver. Four days after chief minister Naveen Patnaik said all the six primary health centres in Kashipur would have a doctor each, at least two did not have one. Till Sunday, no doctor had joined the Gorakhpur and Tikri centres.

Bhikari Nayak, a tribal farmer of Chanrajodi village under Gorakhpur gram panchayat, said that only a compounder and a peon were manning the health centre.

“My wife had dysentery on Wednesday. I brought her to the health centre, where the compounder gave her some tablets. I was lucky as I went between 9 am and 11 am. Otherwise, it would have been locked,” Nayak said. Health centres are scheduled to stay open between between 10 am and 5 pm.

   

 
 
UP FUTURE MAKES CONG HUG ASTROLOGY 
 
 
FROM RASHEED KIDWAI
 
New Delhi, Sept. 9: 
The Congress has reposed faith in astrology, saying that as a political party it had nothing against jyotish vigyan being taught in universities.

The Congress’ rethink comes on the heels of an assessment that Sonia Gandhi should try to address the sentiments of all sections of the majority community in the run-up to the Uttar Pradesh elections.

The former Union minister and the current head of the Congress think-tank on human resources development, Eduardo Faleiro, gave a clean chit to Madhya Pradesh chief minister Digvijay Singh for equating astrology with astronomy as a “science”.

Faleiro said: “We have nothing against astrology. We never opposed the ancient system that is being taught in universities over hundreds of years.”

He heads a small AICC group set up to monitor the functioning of the human resources development ministry and keep tabs on Murli Manohar Joshi’s alleged bid to “saffronise” the education system.

Faleiro had spoken to Digvijay, Kerala chief minister A.K. Antony and Sonia before articulating his opinion. He lauded the Madhya Pradesh chief minister for his “progressive” stand. “He has been on the forefront of our campaign against the Sangh parivar. He had written a letter to Atal Bihari Vajpayee on October 16, 1998, protesting against the imposition of Saraswati vandana,” Faleiro added.

The former minister saw merit in Antony’s objection to the word “saffronisation”. “Antony told me that many religious leaders called on him wondering why the Congress was opposing saffron which they also wear when they had nothing to do with the BJP. I see some merit in it,” he said.

Faleiro’s stand marks a victory for astrology protagonists over rationalists in the Congress. For the last few days, Sonia and close associates were flooded with requests that the Congress should not be seen as opposing “ancient culture and ethos”.

In the Lok Sabha, the Congress had taken a different view, objecting to the introduction of astrology as part of the curriculum in undergraduate and postgraduate courses in UGC-sponsored colleges and universities.

Senior members of the CWC and office-bearers of the AICC said they would lose mass support if the party was seen as back

ing a handful of rationalists. “Even Indira Gandhi was a great believer in jyotish and she timed her Cabinet expansions in accordance with planetary movements,” said a CWC member.

   

 
 
IN BUDDHA’S BENGAL, BASU STRIKES A BLOW FOR OLD HABIT 
 
 
BY TAMAL SENGUPTA
 
Calcutta, Sept. 9: 
Two days after supporting chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s initiative to rid Bengal of the culture of road and rail blockades, CPM politburo member Jyoti Basu today asked trade unions not to forsake the right to strike.

“Do not ever give up this powerful tool,” Basu told a meeting of bus workers owing allegiance to a Citu affiliate. “They (the Left Front government) are your friends and you are an important component of them. Still, you must not bow to the government and cry off a strike if you are fighting for the fulfilment of your legitimate demands.”

The audience of nearly 7,000 private bus drivers, conductors and helpers — grouped under the banner of the North 24-Parganas Bus and Minibus Shramik Union — roared in approval at the Salt Lake stadium. The union is controlled by Subhas Chakraborty, transport minister and perceived dissident in the CPM.

Chakraborty refrained from making any comment, bound as he was by an undertaking to be discreet in public. But his supporter, Laxman Bhattacharjee, threatened to paralyse the city with a string of transport strikes in the days ahead.“It’s our government and it is supposed to work for us. If it does not, we will cripple normal life by organising strikes,” Laxman thundered.

Central to Laxman’s sabre-rattling on the fifth annual conference of the union was the private transport workers’ long-standing demand for pension, which former chief minister Basu’s government had accepted in principle.

Claiming that the government was dragging its feet on the pension scheme for private transport workers, who handled 78 per cent of the commuters in Bengal, the trade union leader said workers’ patience was running out.

“We deferred our last strike call at the behest of Basu when he was chief minister,” he said. “But we cannot be expected to be silent for years if the present government chooses to remain silent. As far as we are concerned, a strike situation is fast building up.”

In response, Basu said neither the government nor Citu would oppose the transport workers if they decided on a strike in support of legitimate demands. “Neither will the government oppose you. In fact, the Citu will support you.”

However, he added: “Remember, a strike is the last weapon of a trade union, so you must be judicious in using it.”

Basu’s protégé, Chakraborty, who bought peace with the state leadership last Friday with help from his mentor, trod with caution at the meeting. But, in a shrewd political move, he showered praise on Basu for introducing the pension scheme for the private bus workers.

“I was in Bhubaneswar a few days ago, addressing a gathering of workers. When I told them about Basu’s acceptance of the scheme for the welfare of the transport workers, my voice got drowned as they applauded for two full minutes, chanting ‘Jyoti Basu zindabad’.”

   

 
 
SON VS FATHER IN CONGRESS KERALA SOAP 
 
 
FROM VENKITESH RAMAKRISHNAN
 
Kochi, Sept. 9: 
The first family of the Congress in Kerala has put the party and the United Democratic Front (UDF) government led by it in sticky terrain. Confabulations between central and state Congress leaders took place for the fifth day today to settle differences between veteran leader and former chief minister K. Karunakaran and his son K. Muraleedharan.

Karunakaran had fallen out with state Congress chief Maraleedharan over the appointment of party office bearers. The move to appoint former MP P.C. Chacko as vice-president being the flash point.

Karunakaran has openly castigated the proposal and wants another Christian leader, P.P. Thankachan, instead. Apparently, Thankachan is a nominee of Karunakaran’s daughter Padmaja, who heads the state tourism development corporation.

The family power tussle took a bitter turn when Karunakaran openly questioned Muraleedharan’s political skills. Muraleedharan had snapped back in public saying that “people who had no role in building up the party are trying to act close to my father and poison his mind against the interests of the party”.

The slant was allegedly directed towards Padmaja, who had joined politics only recently. Muraleedharan had also blamed the A.K. Antony government of appointing Padmaja in haste.

In the past, Karunakaran’s family was known for its collective bargaining and united action to crush rival factions.

Muraleedharan’s appointment at the helm of the party four months ago was part of such a united action at the end of which Karunakaran brokered a deal with the central leadership.

But that unity is nowhere to be seen now. The present dissension is being viewed with apprehension not just by the Congress rank and file but by its allies in the UDF.

The trend of the talks between the state and central leaders is reportedly in Karunakaran’s favour. Sonia Gandhi apparently wants Muraleedharan to put up with Karunakaran’s wishes for now. However, there has been no official announcement.

According to Karunakaran loyalists, there are reasons for the veteran’s reservations about Chacko — his allegiance to the Antony faction and his proximity to Sharad Pawar. When the Maratha strong man left the Congress, Chacko had gone with him and returned later.

But the more important reason for Karunakaran’s distrust is the belief that Chacko was responsible for scuttling his chances of becoming a CWC member at the AICC session in Calcutta. Karunakaran had entrusted his nomination papers to Chacko but he could not file it as “he got stuck in a traffic jam” and “could not reach the nomination centre on time”. Karunakaran, obviously, never believed the story.

Factions led by A.K. Antony, civil supplies minister G. Karthikeyan and Rajya Sabha member Vayalar Ravi are tacitly supporting Muraleedharan to embarrass the veteran leader..

A Congress ally in the UDF, the Indian Union Muslim League (IUML), has started complaining privately that the family tussle is affecting the functioning of the government.

In this spilled-over family feud, either the father or the son has to relent to end the imbroglio, an IUML leader pointed out.

   

 
 
BOY FEASTS ON TOADS, SCORPIONS 
 
 
FROM SUDHIR KUMAR MISHRA
 
Dhanbad, Sept. 9: 
Rebecca used to eat the plaster of the wall in Gabriel Garcia Marquez’ One Hundred Years of Solitude. That was fiction. Eight-year-old Salamat Ansari eats anything that comes his way: from poisonous reptiles, scorpions to lizards and toads, all are good appetisers. He even enjoys chewing polythene waste thrown in the gutters.

Salamat, a resident of Mahuda Basti, never wears clothes. He is always kept under lock and key. No one, not even his parents or his brothers and sisters, goes close to him for fear of being bitten. But Salamat does greet the occasional visitor with a smile, though he can’t speak. To tame him, even his family members give him polythene-sheets to eat. He will continue to live like this as long as his father Iqbal Ansari, a building construction labourer, takes him to Ranchi for his treatment.

“He is the fifth among five brothers and a sister. All his other siblings are normal. He imitates lizards, reptiles and pet animals. He often gets severely hurt. But he easily recovers on his own. He twice fell from the roof-top and got severe head injuries. But within a few months, he recovered fully without any external aid,” said a relative.

Salamat’s brother, Zafar, said no one ever talked to him or played with him with the fear that his bite may prove to be fatal. He is always locked in a room and often chained. “If we do not chain him, he wouldn’t sleep. If he is hungry, anything that comes his way is his food,” added Rahmani Bibi, Salamat’s mother.

Last year, the boy was taken to Ranchi where the doctors said he could get well if admitted to the nursing home after paying Rs 3,000. “We spent all our savings in Ranchi. I was not aware that free treatment is available in the government mental hospital. Now I don’t have the money to pay for the bus fare to Ranchi,” lamented Iqbal.

   

 
 
DMK BLOW TO JAYA TEAM ON ATAL MISSION 
 
 
OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Chennai, Sept. 9: 
The jumbo Tamil Nadu team scheduled to meet Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee tomorrow to press for the release of Cauvery waters by Karnataka has run into rough waters even before setting out on its mission.

DMK MPs, including three Union ministers led by Murasoli Maran, have pulled out of the team designated by chief minister Jayalalitha after an all-party meeting yesterday. A 30-member delegation led by public works minister Dalavai Sundaram left for New Delhi tonight. A second batch of leaders will leave tomorrow.

The DMK has deputed MLA A. Ashokan, elected from Tiruvarur constituency in the heart of the Cauvery delta, to join the delegation that left here this evening. But the team was also supposed to include all the MPs from the state.

The DMK is piqued at the fact that the delegation is being led by two ADMK ministers — education minister M. Thambidurai and PWD minister Dalavai Sundaram.

“It is not a team headed by the chief minister, or else our MPs would have joined; moreover there is no time,” said DMK chief M. Karunanidhi.

Maran and Union minister T.R. Baalu are expected to talk on their own to Vajpayee on the issue. Couple of months back, both of them were harried by police, working under Jayalalitha’s orders, when they had tried to prevent Karunanidhi’s arrest.

Karunanidhi today said he will also speak to Vajpayee on the Cauvery issue, if necessary. He was talking to reporters after a meeting of party office bearers on the local bodies poll scheduled for October.

He faulted Jayalalitha for rejecting the idea of the Cauvery River Authority (CRA), constituted under the chairmanship of the Prime Minister.

The CRA includes the chief ministers of Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra, and for Jayalalitha to disregard its existence “will not be in the interest of the farmers,” said Karunanidhi.

The DMK apparently has come round to taking the PMK back in the NDA fold in the state before the alliance is finalised for the Panchayat elections — even if it means distancing the two Dalit parties opposed to the PMK’s entry.

   

 
 
FROM M.R. VENKATESH 
 
 
CENTRE SUBSIDY STAB ON JAYA
 
Chennai, Sept. 9: 
The Centre has refused payment of subsidy for coir and coir products to Tamil Nadu, adding another chapter to the running feud between the Centre and state government.

After coming to power, the Jayalalitha government found that primary coir societies in the state had not got their rebate subsidy for the past three years — amounting to Rs 60.13 lakh — while reviewing the rural industries department. This includes Rs 10.13 lakh for 1998-99 and Rs 50 lakh for 1999-2000, ironically when the Vajpayee government’s ally, the DMK, was in power.

However, the societies had passed on the rebate benefit to the consumers, believing that they would be compensated by the Centre. But with Delhi unwilling to loosen its purse-strings, the working capital of the societies have been strained, complained state rural industries minister K. Pandurangan.

On chief minister Jayalalitha’s direction, he wrote to Union minister for smallscale industries Vasundhara Raje, who has also been given the personnel department in the latest Cabinet reshuffle. She negated Tamil Nadu’s plea in her reply. The budgetary support for the rebate scheme on coir products was intended to be restricted to the ceiling imposed by the Planning Commission, she said.

Moreover, Raje asserted, the Centre could not understand how any dues could be outstanding as it had, as a “one-time measure”, forked out Rs 3 crore to various states in 1997-98. She also emphasised that no further financial support for the rebate subsidy was possible as the scheme of “market development assistance” had taken effect from this year.

Regretting that Tamil Nadu had to needlessly forego the amount, Pandurangan said: “We would have been entitled to it if only the previous DMK regime had asked for the subsidy legitimately due to the state in time.”

“Now Raje says the policy has changed. Yet we will take it up with the Centre to consider this as a special case,” said Pandurangan, taking a dig at the DMK’s “administrative indifference” for failing to get even this small amount for the state despite being the BJP’s ally.

Pandurangan said the previous DMK regime had also failed to seek the annual grant of Rs 8 lakh for training rural artisans in making palmgur products — a niche area for the state — in 1999-2000 from the Khadi and Village Industries Commission (KVIC). Hence, “we have now written to the KVIC to release the grants, including what was due for last year”, the minister added.

   

 
 
KRISHNA FINDS IT MINISTER AT IIM 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Bangalore, Sept. 9: 
Karnataka’s tech savvy chief minister S.M. Krishna has brought in a former academic of the Indian Institute of Management to run the information technology ministry.

B.K. Chandrashekhar, who was in charge of information and publicity, replaces M.M. Nanaiah, who has been reverted to the excise portfolio.

Official sources said it was decided to shift Nanaiah before the Bangalore.IT.com, the annual mega event, scheduled to be held in November, as he didn’t feel at home in cyberspace. The five-day event, aims to showcase Karnataka’s IT achievements, attracts several global IT companies.

Chandrashekhar does not seem to have taken Krishna’s decision to shift him from the information ministry to information technology too well.

The reshuffle has denied him the opportunity of overseeing the international film festival in Bangalore next month. Chandrashekhar had been co-ordination with Union information minister Sushma Swaraj for the smooth conduct of the show, to be inaugurated by Karnataka’s leading star Rajkumar on October 10.

“He is happy to be posted to information technology but unhappy that the information portfolio has been taken away from him,” officials said.

The information portfolio has now been assigned to M. Shivanna, who was in charge of finance.

Krishna has justified the changes saying it was done to “give more powers and responsibility” to his colleagues. Krishna himself has given up the power portfolio that has gone to Veerakumar Appaso Patil.

The chief minister, however, continues to retain the departments of Cabinet affairs, Bangalore Development Authority, Bangalore City Corporation, Bangalore Water Supply Board and Police Intelligence.

This is the fifth reshuffle of portfolios since Krishna took over in October 1999. The chief minister, however, has avoided a Cabinet expansion.

Krishna is trying to infuse dynamism into the administration, but bureaucracy seems to be coming in the way.

Recently, he had blamed bureaucrats for not responding positively to the administrative reforms and transparency measures introduced by his government.

“If bureaucrats do not wish to change their mind-set, then they are not fit to hold such positions. The secretariat staff have stuck to its age-old tradition of delaying projects and keeping important files on hold,” said Krishna.

   

 
 
FLOODS CLAIM 250 IN EASTERN UP 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Lucknow, Sept. 9: 
Floods in eastern Uttar Pradesh have taken a turn for the worse with more than 250 dead and about 15 lakh people affected in thousands of villages.

Rail and road links to Gorakhpur and five other affected villages remained cut for the fifth day today. Reports from various district headquarters said about 11 lakh people were marooned without food and water in Deoria, Gorakhpur, Azamgarh, Sant Kabirnagar and Siddharthnagar districts. Damage to property has been pegged at about Rs 200 crore.

The army has been called in for rescue and relief operations but the situation remains grim with many villages either submerged or perched precariously above the ferocious waters of Rapti and Ghagra.

   

 
 
CALCUTTA WEATHER 
 
 
 
 

Temperature

Maximum: 32.7°C (+1)
Minimum: 27.9°C (+2)

Rainfall

Trace

Relative Humidity

Max: 94%
Min: 71%

Today

Possibility of light rain in some areas.
Sunrise: 5.24 am
Sunset: 5.44 pm
   
 

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