Anthrax panic in Midnapore
‘Do-it-now’ starts at home for Sen
Crackdown on illegal mines
Rescued youth dies in police station
Uncle Sam sneaks in, in spite of Delhi
No bulldozing on talks: Govt
Sangh ties terror to J&K status
Centre arms for bio-war
Dual-time plan hits twin blocks
Roadshow lure for tourists

Oct. 17: 
The fear of anthrax attacks sweeping the globe gripped Midnapore today when the librarian of the Kendriya Vidyalaya in the Salboni mint compound complained of irritation in his eyes after inhaling a powdery substance found in a book.

The panic started when the librarian was checking the book, part of a consignment of 40 books that arrived from Delhi around 12.30 pm today. As he opened the book, the white powdery substance between the pages was blown away. The librarian inadvertently inhaled it and complained of irritation in his eyes. He was taken to the mint hospital where doctors said he was okay.

Word, however, spread of the “anthrax attack” and the district administration despatched a team of senior police officials and deputy chief medical officer of health Bibhuti Mahapatra. The team retrieved the book and sent it to Calcutta for “routine” tests.

With the pitch of the anthrax alarm rising, animal lovers in Contai have hit upon a novel idea to spread awareness about the deadly disease.

The Contai-based Rural Animal Welfare Society will bring together more than 5,000 domestic animals and pets and their keepers on the streets tomorrow to ease the panic gripping the predominantly rural belt. Five persons and several heads of cattle have succumbed to an outbreak of anthrax in the area since September.

The bedecked animals, their masters and professionals from all walks of life will march from Contai to nearby Jhalda with posters and banners preaching better human-animal relations, detailing the causes of anthrax and the preventive measures that can be taken.

A symposium on anthrax and animal health, to be addressed by renowned veterinary surgeon Swapan Sur, will also be held. The district administration has decided to partner this novel venture.

The administration of Burdwan, the other district in the grip of an anthrax scare, has asked people not to panic about the outbreak that has claimed 25 heads of cattle in Mollahsural and Ramgopalpur villages. A team of veterinary doctors has rushed to the villages to assess the situation.

Though there is no information of any human casualty, symptoms of the disease have been found in four people of Ramgopalpur. One of the affected persons, Abu Hossain, admitted to doctors that they had sold the flesh of a cow that had died of anthrax.


Burdwan, Oct. 17: 
Industry minister Nirupam Sen, the second-in-command in Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s Cabinet, is peeved with the sorry state of roads and poor performance of the health centres in Burdwan, his home constituency.

Sen today held a meeting with the senior officers of the district administration, including the sabhadhipati, district magistrate, chief medical officer of health, PWD engineers and WBSEB officers, to assess the progress of development work in the district.

Cottage and smallscale industry minister Bangsagopal Chowdhury and minister of state for municipal affairs Anju Kar were also present.

While taking note of the various projects, Sen expressed dissatisfaction over the poor road condition. He grilled the district magistrate on why roads had not been repaired and the causes for not implementing the new road projects.

District administration sources said Sen was also angry about the poor performance in the health sector. There are reports that most of the health centres are running without doctors.

“We are tired of hearing allegations from the people that they are not getting treatment and medicines. The situation in the health centres is worse. Why has the situation not improved even after funds and medicine have been provided?” Sen asked CMO(H) Pradyut Saha.

The minister was told by health department officials that 42 posts of doctors were lying vacant and had not been filled up despite several reminders to the state secretariat.

The minister directed zilla parishad sabhadhipati Ramkrishna Banerjee to recruit doctors on contract as soon as possible.

Sen also asked the DVC authorities to improve power supply to the Durgapur-Asansol belt in his first meeting with district officials after becoming minister. He took notes on the functioning of every department and asked the officers to speed up work on the projects.

The sabhadhipati and district magistrate were asked to prepare a list of pending projects and causes of their delay. “I want to know on how many projects work is yet to begin and what is the cause of delay and moreover, what action has been taken to overcome the hurdles,’’ Sen told the officers.


Asansol, Oct. 17: 
The Burdwan administration has demolished six illegal coal mines at Kulti, Ranigunj and Jamuria with the help of ECL authorities over the past couple of days.

The state government, concerned over the cases of mine collapse, has directed the district administration to close down all illegal mines in the Asansol-Ranigunj belt. Police have swung into action to stop illegal mining and arrest the gang involved in it.

“There are 67 mines from where about 600 tonnes of coal are extracted by the mafia. Some of the mines are on private land and some are abandoned. We are determined to close all of them within a few days,’’ said district superintendent of police B.N. Ramesh.

While deserted mines are being flooded, raids are on to flush out illegal miners, Ramesh said. Eight persons have been arrested.


Behrampore, Oct. 17: 
Shanti Panigrahi, a 24-year-old youth, committed suicide by hanging himself from the ceiling of a bathroom in the Farakka police station last night.

The police said the youth, a resident of Simlaguri village in Bankura district, had been kidnapped and brought to Arjunpur village near Farakka in Murshidabad yesterday.

Acting on a tip-off, the police raided the house at Arjunpur where Panigrahi was being held and rescued him. He was then taken to the police station and asked to wait in the room of the officer-in-charge. His relatives in Bankura were informed.

This morning his body was found hanging from the ceiling of the bathroom.

The police have conducted a post-mortem and started a suo motu case of unnatural death.


New Delhi, Oct. 17: 
India may refuse to accept this fact, but willy-nilly the US is being drawn in to play a more active role in Kashmir.

This is not just because Pervez Musharraf is bent on involving the US in Kashmir. But unwittingly India’s constant complaints to Washington about Islamabad’s role in Kashmir has given America the space it needs to get the feuding parties together.

Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee’s letter to President George W. Bush after the bloody attack on the Jammu and Kashmir Assembly is a case in point. “Why do we have to take our case to the US President? We can retaliate against terrorists without seeking permission from Bush,’’ an Indian official said.

US secretary of state Colin Powell said today at a news meet that he wanted India and Pakistan to sit across the table. “No, this is certainly not US mediation, it is just counselling by a friend,’’ a government official said.

It is also widely known that Vajpayee’s invitation to Musharraf to visit India and the consequent Agra summit was the result of US nudging to take up Musharraf’s offer for dialogue. After Kargil and Musharraf’s bloodless coup, India had called off the composite dialogue with the man responsible for the intrusions.

Successive parties in India had consistently refused to allow the US to interfere in Kashmir. During President Bill Clinton’s first term in office, Robin Raphael, the then assistant secretary of state for South Asia, had tried hard to get Washington involved in resolving Kashmir, which she termed as “disputed territory”. However, the Narasimha Rao government refused to budge.

There is a consensus among India’s fractious political parties on Kashmir: it is an integral part of India and it is a bilateral problem between India and Pakistan which will be solved without outside interference.

In an effort to catch Washington’s attention in this game of upmanship with Pakistan, the government is paving the way for the US to play a more active role in Kashmir.

Richard Armitage, deputy secretary of state, had recently referred to Kashmir as a dangerous place. The constant squabbling between India and Pakistan that can trigger a nuclear flashpoint in South Asia has been a constant worry for the US.

The end result could well be that the US turns a peace broker between India and Pakistan.


New Delhi, Oct 17: 
India has told the US that while it remains committed to the dialogue process with Pakistan, it is New Delhi’s discretion to decide when it will resume the talks.

The Centre also said that while the security forces have been exercising maximum restraint in Jammu and Kashmir and along the Line of Control, India reserves the right to defend its territory.

Foreign minister Jaswant Singh told US secretary of state Colin Powell last night that the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government had taken big risks to settle outstanding issues with Pakistan through talks. He referred to the Lahore bus journey, which the Prime Minister undertook in February 1999. Islamabad responded with the armed intrusion in Kargil, Jaswant pointed out.

The foreign minister also cited India’s invitation to Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf to visit Agra and blamed Islamabad for the failure of the two sides to reach an agreement there.

“Ours is perhaps the only government in the last 50 years in India which has taken the maximum risk to resume the dialogue with Pakistan,” he told Powell at Hyderabad House yesterday.

He said India remains committed to the dialogue process with Pakistan, but added that it is up to New Delhi to decide where and when to resume the talks.

The Pakistani leadership has extended an invitation to both Atal Bihari Vajpayee and the foreign minister. Though both have accepted, using the fast-paced global developments as an excuse, they have not decided whether to visit Pakistan now.

Vajpayee and Musharraf were scheduled to meet on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in September. When the UN meet was postponed after the terror attacks in America, the meeting of the two leaders was also called off. There is, however, another window of opportunity for the Prime Minister and the Pakistan President to meet on the margins of the forthcoming Saarc summit in January in Kathmandu.

Singh suggested that while India would settle its outstanding disputes with Pakistan, including Kashmir, it would not allow America or any other country to push it towards the talks table.

These arguments have been offered by the Indian leadership with an eye on the domestic audience. If India announces its desire to resume talks with Pakistan after Powell’s visit, it will not go down well with the Indian public as it will be seen as a move undertaken on Washington’s behest.

Referring to the shelling across the Line of Control in Akhnoor on Monday, Singh said while India has been exercising restraint, this should not be seen as New Delhi’s inability to defend its borders. He argued that the shelling was in response to Pakistan’s effort to push through infiltrators and stressed that whenever such an attempt was made, Indian security forces would respond with firing or shelling.

But he also assured Powell that such action by India would be pre-emptive and undertaken to achieve a limited objective. Nothing will be done to allow tension to spread to other areas.


New Delhi, Oct. 17: 
After screaming itself hoarse on cross-border terrorism and jihad, the RSS is now demanding that Article 370 must go immediately.

It has begun building opinion in favour of scrapping the special status conferred by the Constitution on Jammu and Kashmir.

The editorial in the latest issue of RSS mouthpiece Organiser says: “As a first step towards rooting out terrorism, the Jammu and Kashmir Assembly must immediately recommend the abrogation of Article 370 and Parliament must accept it.”

“There are enough constitutional avenues available to Parliament to do away with Article 370,” it adds.

Repealing Article 370 would “create the right psychological atmosphere for preparing the ground for all-round development of Jammu and Kashmir and offer enough advantage to the Centre to carry on its war on terrorism”, the editorial argues.

“There are times in the history of a nation when opportunities come, allowing rectification of the errors of the past,” it says in conclusion.

RSS sources said though the organisation had religiously adopted resolutions for abrogating Article 370 in its conventions, its leaders believed that the October 1 car bomb strike in Srinagar after the World Trade Center attack gave a “fresh impetus” to bring the issue back on the political centrestage.

Sangh political secretary and pointsman with the NDA government, Madan Das Devi, met home minister L.K. Advani and urged him to look afresh at Article 370.

According to Sangh sources, Advani said nothing could be done at present because the issue was not on the NDA’s national agenda of governance. It was also not possible to amend the Constitution, given that the ruling coalition is in a minority in the Rajya Sabha.

Sangh sources said its strategists were exploring other ways of doing away with the contentious Article or, at least, “diluting” its provisions.

“For instance, the Centre could issue an order partially reversing the blanket ban on the purchase of land by outsiders in Jammu and Kashmir. Certain areas could be denotified and opened up for purchase by retired army personnel,” a source said.

Organiser has also quoted RSS chief K.S. Sudarshan as saying that “granting special constitutional status to Jammu and Kashmir through Article 370 is one of the main obstacles to the political development of the state”.


New Delhi, Oct. 17: 
Assuring that it was ready to deal with biological terrorism, the Centre today chalked out a multi-pronged action plan to combat anthrax, which has triggered an alarm in the West.

Union health minister C.P. Thakur today presided over a high-level meeting attended by among others A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, principal scientific adviser to the Prime Minister and asked all hospitals to be “on alert”.

With anthrax anxiety breaking out in the Western countries, the government came under pressure to give information on its strategy and state of readiness to ward off a bio-terror attack. Prodded by the media, the health minister moved into high gear and planned a series of moves, including today’s meeting with experts and heads of medical and scientific research institutions.

At the end of the meeting, the government sent out the signal not to worry. Though a section of the government believes that the anthrax issue should not be blown out of proportion, the Centre does not wish to be seen as ignoring the developments that have been the talking point for the past few days.

A few days ago, the health ministry issued a circular identifying the micro-organism and its possible antidotes. The Centre today firmed up its backup strategy and said all government hospitals should have enough reserve beds and drugs to meet a situation of bio-terrorism. A committee, led by Major-General Raghunath of the Armed Forces, has been set up to put together a list of Dos and Don’ts for such a crisis.

“Most probably we will release it tomorrow. It will tell the common people and doctors what to do in a situation of biological warfare,” said a health ministry official.

The existing disaster management set-up in hospitals will be toned up and the health ministry is also a planning a two-day workshop in major cities to train medical personnel. “We want that if there is any case of biological terrorism, doctors should be able to diagnose it within 48 hours,” said a health ministry official.

Thakur stressed that the emphasis must be on interconnecting the different services that are available to meet an outbreak of bio-terrorism. Experts also suggested upgrading existing laboratories that are out of tune with the rapidly changing environment.

One of the suggestions placed at today’s meeting was to set up a website on biological terrorism, which could interact with other countries to give information on the subject.


Agartala, Oct. 17: 
Bihar and West Bengal have opposed separate time zones for eastern India and the rest of the country but expressed opinion in favour of reforms and adjustments in the existing single time zone. Sunrise and sunsets occur earlier in eastern India than in the west or the north.

The opinion of the two state governments was conveyed to the Tripura government before a meeting of representatives of eastern India states to discuss the feasibility of having a separate time zone for the east here today, official sources said.

The meeting, held in the conference room of the state secretariat, was attended by the director of the National Physical Laboratory, Kishen Lal, director in the Union ministry of science and technology K.R.S. Krishnan, Tripura chief secretary V. Thulasidas, besides representatives from eastern states and experts.

Thulasidas was a member of the four-member experts committee formed earlier by the Central government and headed by Union science and technology secretary V. Ramamurthy.

Regarding the proceedings of the meeting, presided over by Tripura science and technology minister Jiten Chowdhury, Thulasidas said all participants dwelt on the problem caused by a single Indian Standard Time, but observed that a solution to the problem did not mean having two ISTs.

Thulasidas, the key man behind the attempt to correct the time lag in the country, said all the participants agreed that an early sunrise and sunset in the east led to the lack of optimum time utilisation and increased power consumption.

Asked what the delegates had suggested as possible remedy, Thulasidas said proposals had been made to advance working hours in government offices and other institutions in eastern India to take advantage of the early sunrise and to ensure the saving of daylight time.

Even in western countries, working hours began at 7.30 am during winter, he said, adding this could be tried out as a first step towards finding a solution to the problem of a single time zone for the entire country.

The opinions and observations of this meeting would be further discussed by the four-member central committee headed Ramamurthy in a meeting scheduled in New Delhi.


New Delhi, Oct. 17: 
The tourism ministry is scripting a new scenario: how to turn adversity into a blessing.

A special tourism promotion task force, set up to deal with the crisis arising from the September 11 strikes, met for the first time yesterday under the chairmanship of director-general of tourism V.K. Duggal. It was decided that the industry would play a pro-active role to attract tourists to India while the tourism ministry would be the facilitator.

The task force was set up by the tourism minister on October 4 and has a wide representation. Besides the director-general of tourism, there are high-level representatives from the ministries of civil aviation, external affairs, home affairs and finance, additional member of the Railway Board, managing director of Indian Airlines and commercial manager, Air India.

The task force also has representatives from industry bodies. Office-bearers of the IATO, TAAI, FHRAI, HAI, CII, Ficci, Assocham and the PHD Chamber of Commerce and Industry are members. There were also representatives of Sita, Jet Airways and British Airways among others at the meeting.

One of the goals of the task force is to project India as a desirable destination, especially in countries where the tourists are likely to shy away from travelling to the US and the UK. To this end, the government and industry will seek to reassure and bolster the confidence of inbound tourists.

An immediate action plan has been drawn up. First, roadshows will promote India in regions, which have been traditional tourism markets. Given the uncertainties in the US and the UK, the new targets will be north Asia, including China, Korea and Japan, Southeast Asia, South Africa and Australia. An advertising campaign to be released by the tourism ministry will accompany the roadshows.

Another round of roadshows will be held on a subdued scale in France, Germany and Austria. Experience of tour operators show that the drop in incoming tourists from these countries has not been significant.

A plan to invite 200 overseas mediapersons, specialising in travel, to a large event is also in the pipeline. Perhaps, the Pushkar Mela in Ajmer may be selected to organise the media event. These activities will take place before the World Tourism Meet at London in mid-November. Also on the cards is a plan to give a fillip to domestic tourism.


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