Private practice in health centres
Minister war on tuitions
Communal split spectre looms in heartland
‘Look east’ tip for Atal terror fight
Delhi braces for copycat strikes
New war on army’s drawing board
Hurriyat security scaledown
‘Secretive’ Selvam shuts scribes out
Protesters defy curfew & cops
NDA grabs chance to target Rabri

 
 
PRIVATE PRACTICE IN HEALTH CENTRES 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Midnapore, Sept. 27: 
As if it were not enough that practising doctors in health minister Dr Suryakanta Mishra’s backyard – Midnapore — are drawing non-practising allowance, they are carrying on their private consultancy from government health centres.

As reports of such violations pour in, district health authorities have started an inquiry into the number of doctors involved.

Chief medical officer of health K.M. Hussain has initiated a probe against two medical officers of Belpahari and Binpur block primary health centres for allegedly charging people money for treatment inside the hospital complex.

There are also allegations that doctors are using rooms in their respective centres for their private practice. Their fees reportedly range from Rs 20 to Rs 50.

“We are compelled to pay money to the doctors for treatment. It is the only health centre in the entire Belpahari block and there is no other doctor around. If we do not pay we have to return without treatment,’’ said Sudhansu Mahato, a resident of Belpahari.

Dulal Barik of Binpur said if the doctor is not given money he will not attend to any patient. “An emergency patient will get a bed, proper treatment and medicine only if he pays for it. Otherwise, the patient will be kept on the hospital floor or under a tree. We are compelled to pay the doctor to save our life. We have to pay even for bandage,’’ he said.

“The health centre is in a sorry state,” said local CPM secretary Rabi Das.

“There is no medicine and, moreover, patients do not get treatment.’’

   

 
 
MINISTER WAR ON TUITIONS 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Burdwan, Sept. 27: 
School education minister Kanti Biswas today said about 20 per cent of school teachers were still engaged in private tuition, ignoring the state government’s plea to give up the practice.

Biswas made it clear that the government will stop private tutions by a section of school teachers by introducing a Bill in the state Assembly before the next academic session. Laying the foundation stone of the regional office of West Bengal Council for Higher Secondary Education, Biswas said his government was paying wages to school teachers on time despite the government’s financial constraints. “Naturally, the government expects the teachers to not shirk their responsibilities and go on teaching pupils at their homes,” the minister said.

“If a teacher fails to complete course during the stipulated period, he will have to finish the same by taking additional classes. This will be made mandatory in the proposed act which we are going to constitute to stop private tution in the state”, Biswas thundered. Biswas also urged the guardians to come forward and help the government in abolishing the age-old practice.

   

 
 
COMMUNAL SPLIT SPECTRE LOOMS IN HEARTLAND 
 
 
FROM RADHIKA RAMASESHAN
 
New Delhi, Sept. 27: 
The ban on the Students’ Islamic Movement of India (Simi) threatens to polarise Uttar Pradesh along communal lines as in the heydays of the mandir-masjid agitation.

The major players have expectedly seized the bait, and their responses suggest that if it was the Ram mandir which had divided the state’s urban electorate into religious groupings, the attempt would be to use Simi to achieve the same end again.

Senior BJP leader J.P. Mathur said: “The ban was long overdue. However, it is tragic that a section of the minority community in Lucknow lost its balance and attacked thanas in the Chowk area.” Mathur told the community that in the “present circumstances” they had as much of a “national responsibility” as the government and other sections.

“They should align themselves with national interests in the present scenario and not let religious zeal overshadow national interest,” he said.

Samajwadi Party leader and former chief minister Mulayam Singh Yadav said the government should have first outlawed the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and the Bajrang Dal — both RSS fronts — because of their alleged “anti-national antecedents”.

Mulayam told The Telegraph that the Centre’s decision to ban Simi was a “diversionary tactic” to deflect attention from the “failures” of the Rajnath Singh government in the run-up to the Assembly polls.

He claimed that the chief minister had called a meeting of a few handpicked IPS officers on September 18 and unveiled his “plans” to get minority community members beaten and harassed across the state “from the point of view of getting the Hindu votes”.

“Everybody has turned against him — the kisan, lawyers, students. The state is reeling under floods and drought, there is no water and electricity in the villages and even his great most backward castes (MBC) card has failed. So he is playing the communal card but even this will fail,” the former chief minister said.

The Samajwadi Party-led People’s Front proposes to oppose the ban and has demanded that an all-party meeting be convened to discuss the issue.

BJP sources, however, claimed that the other two Opposition parties in the state, the Bahujan Samaj Party and the Congress, may find it difficult to protest the ban because both were “actively courting” the upper-caste votes.

The bomb blasts in Coimbatore, allegedly engineered by the Al-Umma just before the 1998 general elections, was cited as an example of how a terrorist attack ended up polarising voters on religious lines and worked to the BJP’s advantage.

The party won the Coimbatore Lok Sabha seat as well as the neighbouring Nilgiris.

If the minority community retaliated against the ban, the BJP’s assessment is that at least the upper-caste Hindu electorate in the towns and cities, which is disenchanted with the government for various reasons, may get swayed “emotionally” and vote with its heart rather than its head.

   

 
 
‘LOOK EAST’ TIP FOR ATAL TERROR FIGHT 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Sept. 27: 
Opposition leaders today asked the government to “look east” in forging an anti-terror front even as Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee clarified that his government had not given the US any “direct or indirect” assurance on making the country’s air bases available for an attack on Afghanistan.

Vajpayee, who met non-NDA leaders to thrash out a national consensus, said: “We have not given any direct or indirect assurance to the US about offering our bases and we should put an end once and for all to such speculation.” Leaders of the Congress, the Left parties, ADMK, Telugu Desam, Bahujan Samaj Party, Samajwadi Party and the Rashtriya Janata Dal attended the meeting.

Congress leader K. Natwar Singh and CPI’s A.B. Bardhan underlined the need for regrouping non-aligned countries, saying retaliatory action against the September 11 strikes should have the United Nation’s sanction. Natwar, head of the AICC cell on foreign affairs, said the government should “look east”.

The former external affairs minister said the government should hold talks with neighbouring countries to make common cause against terrorism. The hint was greater involvement with China. Congress president Sonia Gandhi is leaving for Beijing on October 10 on the invitation of Li Peng, number two in the Chinese establishment.

Though Sonia was invited three months ago, her engagements in China assume significance in view of the world situation following the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington. Sonia was not present at today’s meeting as she was visiting Amethi, her constituency.

Vajpayee said he was for an all-party national campaign against terrorism. He said parties should caution people against those trying to equate Islam with terrorism and emphasised the need for communal harmony. Vajpayee said his government was under no illusions about depending on anyone for its battle against terrorism.

Natwar said the government should avoid steps that could go against the country’s long-sustained policy of non-alignment. “We are with the government but don’t want it to take any step which would run counter to the policy of non-alignment pursued by the country,” he said.

Left leaders said the government should activate the United Nations instead of merely becoming a “follower of America”.

Bardhan suggested that the government should also have close consultations with neighbouring countries instead of only being in touch with Western countries.

The Opposition leaders said India should not get involved militarily in any US-led action against Afghanistan and strongly felt that the UN and Non-Aligned Movement countries should be galvanised in the current fight against global terrorism.

External affairs minister Jaswant Singh briefed the leaders about Vajpayee’s telephonic contacts with US President George W. Bush and British premier Tony Blair. He also told them about interactions with his counterparts from Russia, Egypt, Iraq, Iran, Saudi Arabia, France, the US and Pakistan.

Jaswant gave a detailed account of Delhi’s assessment of the internal situation in Pakistan and Afghanistan and the situation that might emerge in the coming two months. He said India and the US were also sharing intelligence.

   

 
 
DELHI BRACES FOR COPYCAT STRIKES 
 
 
FROM SEEMA GUHA
 
New Delhi, Sept. 27: 
The search is on for a World Trade Center in India. No, not literally. But since the September 11 strikes in the US, the government is bracing itself for copycat strikes on India’s commercial and political nerve centres.

The Cabinet Committee on Security, which has met several times since the attacks, has discussed all aspects of the fallout of the strikes. The government fears that sooner or later there could be similar attempts by terrorists in India.

Though India has long experience in dealing with terrorists — in the Northeast, Punjab and Kashmir — the challenges now are different. “It’s a totally different ball game. September 11 has changed everything, not just in India but all over the world,” a senior official said.

The country has to take a fresh look at its security set-up. The threat now stretches far beyond the usual targets to include commercial and political symbols of the country. Indian security agencies have been told to locate these sensitive targets.

Cabinet secretary T.R. Prasad is summoning chief secretaries of states soon to begin discussions on the new security threat. States will be asked to review buildings and areas that could fall under the category of symbols.

Prasad will also tell the officials not to be complacent and dismiss the US strikes as something that happened far away. “The urgency and immediacy is lost on certain state governments,” an official said. The object of the series of meetings the Cabinet secretary will hold is to explain the real threat to this country.

Osama bin Laden is alleged to have named the US, Israel and India as the three countries to be targeted by his militants. The veracity of India being on the list cannot be ascertained, but no one wants to take a chance.

Prasad will begin with chief secretaries of northern states and ask them to pull up their socks. Officials realise that the concept of security has changed dramatically and is now an entirely new ball game. India has faced several hijacks, the latest being IC 814 that was flown to Kandahar. In retrospect, it seems to have been an easy deal as the hijackers had placed their demands and were willing to negotiate. In the US, the hijacked planes were used to rip through the WTC and the Pentagon.

Countrywide, traditional security meant protecting “vital installations”. These are nuclear and defence establishments, airports, power stations, major bridges and military airfields. But today, security extends much beyond these parameters. “The Bombay Stock Exchange has to be factored in as a target of attack. Buildings in Mumbai’s Dalal Street, the Reserve Bank of India, Rashtrapati Bhavan or Parliament House, all of these are now exposed to a different kind of danger,” an official said.

In the days before the US attacks, the most one could expect were car bombs or mines around sensitive areas like Parliament or the residences of the President, the Prime Minister and Cabinet ministers. Protecting these targets from aircraft missiles may be difficult. The government is doing whatever possible, but officials wryly admit that there is no fullproof protection when zealots are bent on suicide missions.

   

 
 
NEW WAR ON ARMY’S DRAWING BOARD 
 
 
FROM SUJAN DUTTA
 
Deolali (Maharashtra), Sept. 27: 
Gunner recruit Rajhans Singh Yadav daubs brush in brilliant orange, yellow, black and red watercolours and puts paint to chart paper in which his depiction of the blasting of the twin towers is beginning to take shape.

At a sit and draw competition among recruits of the army’s Artillery Centre in Nashik Road, Yadav — one of several hundreds put through the rigorous training here every year — is being prepared for future wars in which battlefields are as much in the mind as they are in the skyscrapers of Lower Manhattan or the lunar landscape of Afghanistan.

When Yadav is putting the finishing touches to his work, the swish of a rocket cutting through the mid-afternoon air at the School of Artillery, a few kilometres ahead in Deolali, ends with a bang as it finds its target on the base of Cone Hill in the firing range.

Two years ago, the GRAD BM-21, a Russian-made 122mm-multi barrelled self-propelled rocket launcher, fired fusillade after fusillade from its 40 barrels in Dras the night the assault on Tiger Hill was launched. Later, the enemy at the Kargil heights recalled what fear the GRAD — Russian for hailstorm — struck.

Minutes later, a detachment of nine men jumps out of the cabin of a Swedish Scania truck towing a coffee-coloured Bofors 155-mm FH77B Howitzer as it skids to a halt. A gunner takes the driver’s seat on the cannon, swings the barrel around in a full circle before pointing at Diamond — another target in the range — as the others unlock the crane that loads the shells and help embed the spades of its firing platform in the soft hillside.

The Bofors fires directly, like it fired in Kargil in an innovation the artillery claims helped win the war — direct fire at visible targets, often without the aid of an observer in a forward post to give the specifics.

That night in Dras there were hundred guns in concert led by the Bofors. The earth shook everytime a shell blasted off. Seconds later the peaks were lit by brilliant flashes. When the infantry finally made it to Tiger Top, they reported later, not a single boulder was intact.

India’s last war was as much a victory for its army as it was for the army’s Regiment of Artillery. It is the second largest arm of the Indian army.

Two years down the line, as the regiment celebrates its 174th raising day tomorrow (September 28), it is in the knowledge that if Kargil was an unconventional war, then the first war of the 21st Century — as Bush has called it — is like nothing waged before. And its impact is being felt in army schools just as in the confines of a painting that a rookie recruit does in an exercise to put mind over matter.

The army does not expect to be called to duty this time round, but here in the School of Artillery, an army thinktank, the generals are wrestling with ideas that will redefine the role of gunners in the “techno-strategic battlefield” of the future.

“We are looking at our training systems and doctrines. Future battles will be non-linear, transparent. They will demand simultaneous involvement of targets and day and night battles,” says Brigadier General Staff Ashok Kumar Jaitly, chief of training at the school.

“Nuclearisation of South Asia is a reality. It is only a matter of time before we learn to use them. But nuclear weapons are essentially deterrents. There are major innovations taking place in weapons and ammunition technologies of which we are trying to keep abreast,” he added.

The commandant, Lt Gen Avtar Singh, is now leading a restructuring of the school itself. By the end of the exercise, it will lay more emphasis on Surveillance and Target Acquisition (SATA), military jargon for ranging and defining targets electronically.

Before that, however, the army is forced to cope with shortages. The army has 236 artillery regiments; there are 18 guns (three batteries) in each regiment. The world over, artillery is increasingly moving to the 155 mm, the calibre of the Bofors. India bought 410 Bofors guns in the controversial deal of 1986 that is still being investigated. Of these, about 300 are operational, meaning only about 20 regiments are working on the 155-mms.

The school has now asked for “force multiplying” as a cheaper alternative to new acquisition of equipment and weapons. “The 130-mm guns will be upgraded to 155-mms,” says Lt Gen Avtar Singh.

The trial wing of the school has found an offer from Soltine, an Israeli firm, good enough for the job, and has suggested modifications in its upgradation programme.

One of these is the addition of a self-loading crane — like in the Bofors guns — to the 130-mms. The 130-mms have been the mainstay of the Indian artillery for decades.

They are indigenously produced — at the Jabalpur plant — and veteran gunners like Colonel N. V. Subramaniam who led the 315 artillery regiment at Pandras in the assault on Tiger Hill, swear by them.

Shortages concern the army from the field to the classroom. At the Artillery Centre, recruits being trained to drive heavy vehicles have to make do with one simulator. There are 600 trainees at any time. In the small arms section, too, there are just two simulators. The demand for entry as rookie recruits is tremendous. “For just 10 or 15 vacancies we land up with close to 4,000 applicants,” says Brigadier Ravi Nair who heads the centre.

The school is the alma mater of officer gunners as well as other ranks. Among its illustrious alumni is the current Chief of Army Staff, Gen. S. Padmanabhan, the fourth gunner who rose to become chief.

It is also here that some of the biggest changes in the army are being initiated.

   

 
 
HURRIYAT SECURITY SCALEDOWN 
 
 
FROM MUKHTAR AHMAD
 
Srinagar Sept. 27: 
The Jammu and Kashmir government is thinking of downgrading security for leaders of the All-Parties Hurriyat Conference.

“The present security cover to the Hurriyat leaders will be reviewed and might be down-graded, if required, in the prevailing situation,” chief minister Farooq Abdullah said in the Assembly.

The Panthers’ Party headed by Bhim Singh had earlier demanded that the security provided to the Hurriyat by the state be withdrawn.

Panthers’ Party leader Harsh Dev Singh said in the Assembly: “When the world was uniting to fight terrorism, the state government was providing security to the people who are encouraging secessionism.” The government is spending around Rs 50 lakh every year on the security of the Hurriyat leaders, Singh said.

The demand for the security rollback enjoyed the support of most Opposition leaders and ruling party MLAs in the House today.

Abdullah said: “Security has been provided to protect the Hurriyat leaders as in case of any harm (done to them) accusing fingers would be pointed towards the government.”

The Hurriyat leaders, he said, “are aware of the quarter from which they are faced with threat. They know who was behind the assassination of Mirwaiz Moulvi Omar Farooq.”

“Though the stance of some Hurriyat leaders has changed, differences among some of them called for adequate security for their protection,” Abdullah said.

   

 
 
‘SECRETIVE’ SELVAM SHUTS SCRIBES OUT 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Chennai, Sept. 27: 
Tamil Nadu’s stand-in chief minister O. Panneerselvam seems to be struggling to come to terms with his newfound position.

Emerging after his first Cabinet meeting this evening, the chief minister quietly got into a waiting car and drove off after a modest vanakkam (the traditional greeting gesture).

His secretary C.K. Gariyali put on an embarrassed smile as reporters pressed for a word or two on the quake that shook the city on Tuesday.

With scientists saying that Chennai had a close shave as the quake was epicentred under the sea off Pondicherry coast, reporters were eagerly awaiting a word on the disaster management contingency plan the government would unveil.

The media had to be content with the “blueprint” of a disaster management plan that police commissioner K. Muthukaruppan had put together with certain other agencies.

Though quite a few substantial issues are believed to have figured in Panneerselvam’s maiden meeting, all that he said was: “It is a secret.”

The ADMK, too, seems to have fallen silent in keeping with its chief minister’s reticence. Though Panneerselvam had yesterday denied his ministers’ involvement in burning effigies of Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, DMK leader M. Karunanidhi and others while protesting against the Supreme Court verdict unseating Jayalalithaa, Union law minister Arun Jaitley today got away with some pointed remarks against the ADMK.

Jaitley, who was in the city to inaugurate a CII-organised international conference on logistics, told reporters that the ADMK bid to associate the NDA government at the Centre with the recent verdict was improper and irresponsible.

There was no response from the ADMK to Jaitley’s comments. Observers reasoned that the party’s focus had shifted to the last-minute hitches in firming up alliances for the local bodies polls slated for October 16 and 18.

The Congress has queered the pitch by opening up a third front after snapping ties with Jayalalithaa. P. Chidambaram’s new party, Congress Jananayaga Peravai, and the CPM have begun evincing interest in this alternative to the DMK and ADMK-led fronts.

With the filing of nominations on in full swing, state election commissioner P.S. Pandiyan said he has initiated steps to comply with the Madras High Court directive to include the names of voters deleted from the electoral rolls.

Pandiyan said voters whose names had figured in the rolls used for the 1999 Lok Sabha polls and who had obtained the Election Commission’s photo-identity card could apply for including their names in the electoral rolls.

   

 
 
PROTESTERS DEFY CURFEW & COPS 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Patna, Sept. 27: 
Demonstrators today set ablaze a passenger train coach and blocked traffic in Muzaffarpur violating curfew orders issued yesterday after 11 people were killed in police firing on a mob angry over the murder of an abducted schoolboy.

Agitators took to the streets today in protest against the firing deaths and the murder of five-year-old Gautam.

Protesters forcibly stopped the Raxaul-Sonepur passenger train near here and set ablaze a bogie after ordering the passengers out. Business establishments, academic institutions and government offices remained closed. Police lathicharged mobs blocking roads at several places in the district, which remained tense.

Earlier in the day, the Bihar Military Police staged flag marches in sensitive localities. Armed police personnel have been deployed across Muzaffarpur town.

Muzaffarpur had erupted in anger against the killing of Gautam, the son of a Punjab National Bank employee, who was abducted last week while on his way to school. Gautam’s parents are undergoing treatment in a Muzaffarpur hospital.

Throughout yesterday, people had fought pitched battles with the police in the town as more than 5,000 agitators surrounded the police station and torched at least half-a-dozen vehicles besides outposts at Kalyaney, Saraiyaganj and Malighat and burnt the Bihar State Electricity Board office at Tilak Maidan. The mob had also ransacked the special branch office of the home department.

Muzaffarpur superintendent of police N.H. Khan and DIG S. Sharma have been suspended.

The incident has raised the political temperature in the state to boiling point. The NDA has called for a Bihar bandh on October 5 and senior leaders would converge on Muzaffarpur from tomorrow to build up the tempo for the bandh. BJP leader Sushil Modi today led a silent procession in Patna from Sahid Smarak to Gandhi statue.

The CPI(ML) has called a Bihar bandh on September 29. Congress members said they have kept their high command posted about the development.

The Assembly was repeatedly adjourned today following pandemonium over the kidnap murder and the deaths.

   

 
 
NDA GRABS CHANCE TO TARGET RABRI 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Sept. 27: 
NDA leaders are planning a fresh offensive against RJD chief Laloo Yadav in the wake of yesterday’s police firing in Muzaffarpur.

Lok Jana Shakti Party (LJSP) chief and Union coal and mines minister Ram Vilas Paswan blamed the state government for the worsening law and order situation. Paswan said he had talks with other NDA leaders on launching an agitation for the dismissal of the Rabri Devi government.

Paswan said he has talked with Samata Party leader Nitish Kumar and leader of the Opposition in the state Sushil Kumar Modi, of the BJP, to work out the modalities for a joint campaign against the RJD “misrule”. He would also talk to Janata Dal (United) president and Union labour minister Sharad Yadav.

An action programme will be finalised in a day or two, Paswan said. He would lead a delegation of party workers to Rashtrapati Bhavan on October 2 and submit a memorandum to President K.R. Narayanan seeking the government’s dismissal. NDA leaders are under pressure to get rid of the Rabri regime, he said.

   
 

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