Bias charge greets PF launch
Police stations go mobile in villages
State fails to use road funds
Anthrax scare false: minister
More clout for contraband crackdown
Net gain for train traveller next summer
Sena switches to Hindutva
Hashish lifeline for hungry village
Stroke alert for heart patients
From cartoons to war news

Andul (Howrah), Oct. 19: 
Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee today inaugurated the provident-fund scheme for the unorganised sector after warning his party cadre not to politicise the “benevolent” scheme being implemented for the first time in the country.

The scheme, which had generated a war of words between transport minister Subhas Chakraborty and finance minister Asim Dasgupta over its feasibility during the discussion stage, started with another round of controversy today following Sankrail Trinamul Congress MLA Sital Sardar’s allegation that CPM cadre were influencing the inclusion of workers in the scheme.

He named four villages where CPM men were allegedly weeding out non-CPM workers from the list being prepared, prompting Bhattacharjee’s warning not to “politicise” the scheme. “Partisan politics should not be used as a weapon to target supporters of the Opposition,” he added.

The government will contribute Rs 20 every month to the PF account of a labourer earning less than Rs 3,500 every month in the unorganised sector with a similar grant from the labourer. The state government estimates there are more than a crore workers in the sector. That implies an extra monthly spending of Rs 20 crore if every worker enrolls himself in the scheme.

By March next year, the government wants to include at least one lakh people in the scheme. Today’s programme saw the chief minister formally signing up 23 workers. He handed over 23 passbooks to the first PF account-holders from the unorganised sector in the country. Though workers can withdraw from the scheme after three years if they are not satisfied with it, Bhattacharjee requested labourers not to do so.

“Apply for a loan against your PF if you need the money very urgently but try not to withdraw from the scheme,” he told the crowd at the function held at the Andul Rajbati ground. “This is for your own good,” Bhattacharjee said.

The novel scheme is being implemented at a time when labourers in the organised sector themselves were not feeling very secure, the chief minister said. “Times are bad,” he added, informing the crowd of the Prime Minister’s warning that the country could face a heavy tax burden following the start of the US strikes in Afghanistan and also because of India’s own war against terrorism.

The state government is also going to prepare a new list of below-poverty-line people. The Indian Statistical Institute would be approached for “methodological” help, Bhattacharjee said.


Calcutta, Oct. 19: 
After mobile post offices, libraries and hospitals, it is police stations on wheels.

Bengal’s first moving police station started functioning in Burdwan yesterday. The state government has decided to introduce roving police stations in villages, especially in the trouble-prone areas. According to police officials, a smaller version of the mobile police station is already there in the Lalgola Passenger, but a full-fledged police station on wheels is a first in the state.

Burdwan’s roving police station, including two vans and a jeep carrying armed personnel will move around villages, taking complaints, and if possible, settling them. The unit will work within the jurisdiction of Galsi police station covering about 200 villages.

“Villagers from remote areas cannot come to the police station as they have to walk miles and also for fear. Our move is aimed to reach those villagers and provide assistance,’’ said B.N. Ramesh, the district superintendent of police.

According to senior police officers if the district, in many cases they fail to reach the scene of a crime on time because of long distances and lack of road links.

“Thousands of villagers would benefit from the mobile police station. We have started it on an experimental basis and more such stations would be introduced in different areas if the results are satisfactory,’’ Ramesh said.

The vans of the mobile unit will be fitted with modern wireless systems and will be stationed at select villages for a specific period everyday. The armed policemen will patrol adjacent areas in the jeep.

Apart from receiving complaints, the police will also try to redress them on the spot by calling the contending parties. They will also interact with local clubs, organisations and NGOs, the district police chief said.

The decision to introduce the roving police stations comes in the wake of a series of complaints from different parts of the state that little police help was available in case of law and order problems in the villages. The move follows a meeting of chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee with home secretary S.N. Roy, director-general of police Dinesh Vajpai and other senior police officers.


Durgapur, Oct.19: 
Union minister of state for road transport and national highways B.C. Khanduri today criticised the state government for failing to utilise Central funds for road repairs.

Inaugurating the extension of NH-2 between Durgapur and Dhanbad, Khanduri said the Centre had so far provided Rs 126 crore, of which the state government could spend only Rs 13 crore till date. “It is a matter of concern that the state government has utilised only one-ninth of the Central funds provided for the upkeep of national highways in the current financial year,” the minister said in the presence of state PWD minister Amar Chowdhury and his deputy, Dasarath Tirkey.

“Back in Delhi we hear that roads in West Bengal are in bad shape because the Centre does not provide funds. But this is not true. We always allot funds as and when necessary. But if the state government fails to utilise it what can we do?” he asked.

Admitting that the funds could not be fully utilised, the PWD minister said: “We were busy with the Assembly elections and so we could not spend the funds. The work on the national highways was hindered due to the monsoon. We hope that now we will be able to carry on with the job in full swing.”


Calcutta, Oct. 19: 
Health minister Suryakanta Mishra has rubbished all claims of anthrax poisoning cases in West Bengal, saying there was no chance of an outbreak.

Three years ago, there had been 40 cases of people infected with anthrax but no one had died, Mishra said today. “This year, we have had five unconfirmed anthrax cases in Galsi in Midnapore district,” the minister pointed out.

The state health department has sent teams to Midnapore, Burdwan and north Bengal to verify reports of anthrax infection. “That there is no outbreak does not mean we are not checking out the rumours,” the minister said.

Mishra said reports of anthrax infection in Midnapore’s Salboni library were not true. “Tests on samples collected from there have proved negative,” he said.


Calcutta, Oct. 19: 
Unable to check the influx of contraband drugs in the city and check the ever-increasing “secret laboratories” in the fringe areas, the anti-narcotics cell has now sought help from the Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB) in their fight against drugs. “The peddlers have definitely become smarter now,” says NCB superintendent D.K. Ghosh.

Inquiries by the law-enforcing agencies have revealed that college students, frequenting popular bars and discotheques, have started taking hashish and a special brand of ATS (amphetamine-type substances) tablets.

“These drugs were quite common, even in the past. But addicts are now going for a stronger mixture, which affects the central nervous system. Most people are unaware that there are almost 100 varieties of these drugs. Unlike others which can cause depression, this particular brand of ATS tablets acts as a stimulant, very popular among the younger generation,” said an NCB official.

Gone are the days when sale of contraband drugs was limited to areas like Topsia, Buroshibtala, Kidderpore and Sudder Street, say officials. Today opium, charas, heroin and ganja can be bought in Salt Lake, Jadavpur or any upmarket locality of central and south Calcutta.

“Earlier, the favourite place for dealing in drugs were remote gallis, but now an organised racket ensures that such stuff is readily available in bars, hotels and discotheques. One of the most popular drugs is a mixture of heroin and cocaine, called Moonrock. The lesser-known places even offer poppy plant dust with water, which has a strong narcotic effect. We are working with the NCB to bust this racket,” an official of the detective department said on Thursday.

In the past weeks, the NCB made a string of arrests and confiscated a rich haul of contraband, including cannabis, heroin and ganja. Interrogations revealed most of the drugs were manufactured in “secret laboratories” and smuggled into the city in trucks. “We have also come across cases where drugs were smuggled into the city in water and jam bottles,” says Gp>hosh.


Calcutta, Oct. 19: 
Booking a ticket from Delhi to Calcutta? Soon you won’t have to stand in queue to do it, nor look frantically for a reliable travel agent. You’ll be able to reserve your seats on the Internet thanks to the Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation (IRCTC).

Set up two months ago, IRCTC is intended to facilitate interactions between the Indian Railways and the travelling public. Announcing a series of steps for stepping up services in railway travel, IRCTC managing director M.N. Chopra said work on enabling e-booking of railway tickets has already started and sanctions from the railways for offering such a service has been obtained. Chopra was speaking at the plenary session, Business in Tourism at the CII-organised 2nd international conference, India: Tourism & Heritage -- Challenge 21.

The facility will be available in Delhi by May, 2002 at the latest. The service will operate through several cybercafes in Delhi and arrangements will be made to deliver the tickets at the address given. The service will then spread to other parts of the country.

IRCTC is also working on such facilities as group bookings for 50 persons or so, which does not exist at present. The company is also working towards offering facility for reserve bookings at a premium to some large agencies, which can make such block bookings. No decision has been arrived at the rate of premium.

As a first step, IRCTC is upgrading the catering standards and taking control of the catering services. Initially, the catering of Rajdhanis and Shatabdis will be done by IRCTC. The company is also setting up food plazas in some 100 stations.

IRCTC is also negotiating with states and private agencies for reserving a fixed quota of seats. Negotiations are on with West Bengal to offer this facility on the Calcutta-Darjeeling and Calcutta-Puri routes. An agreement has already been reached with Kerala Tourism Development Corporation for earmarking one coach once a week. A similar package had been arranged with Thomas Cook for Vaishnodevi, where a fortnightly service has been resumed.


Mumbai, Oct. 19: 
A leopard may not change its spots, but a tiger does. Well, not spots really, but stripes.

“Maharashtra for Maharashtrians” is no longer Bal Thackeray’s rallying cry as the Shiv Sena seeks to foray into other parts of the country and graduate from a regional to a national party.

The changed heart and goals of Tiger — as Thackeray loves to be seen and described as — became apparent in a speech Uddhav Thackeray made at a Sena-organised rally of North Indians living in Mumbai.

“You forget whether you are a North Indian or a South Indian. All you need to remember is that you are an Indian,” Uddhav, the Sena chief’s son and political heir apparent, said to thunderous applause.

The Sena appears to be giving up its rabid regionalism because it has not paid off. The party leadership apparently feels that its “son of the soil” policy has confined its influence largely to the state, keeping it out of the national arena.

Instead, it has now decided to espouse the “Hindutva” plank vigorously to try and bolster its fledgling base in northern India.

The Sena has been carrying out a number of headline-grabbing protests of late in Delhi and Uttar Pradesh, hoping to step into a “void” it feels the BJP has created in the Hindi heartland by diluting its Hindutva plank.

Uddhav urged the audience at the rally to gather under the banner of Hinduism. “We all have to remain united as Hindus. That’s the only way we can remain together.”

Uddhav said his father was never opposed to the North Indians living in thousands in the financial capital. “It is all part of a disinformation campaign against him and the Shiv Sena.”

The Sena leader said relations between the Maharashtrians and the North Indians went back 300 years. He said a priest from Uttar Pradesh had coronated Chhatrapati Shivaji.

It is not clear how fast the Sena cadre will adapt to the party’s new outlook, but the party leadership has already diluted its ongoing campaign to “deface” the English shop signs in the financial capital.

To draw Hindi-speaking residents to its fold, the Sena is already bringing out a Hindi afternoon edition of its Marathi mouthpiece, Saamna.

Casting aside the murmurs of several party leaders, Thackeray sent the articulate editor of Dophar Ki Saamna, Sanjay Nirupam, to the Rajya Sabha. The party is counting on Nirupam, who comes from Bihar and is an eloquent speaker in Hindi, to make its presence felt in Delhi.

Referring to the party’s past campaigns against “outsiders”, Uddhav said the Sena was against the overcrowding of Mumbai, but not against any community.

“Everyone living here has the responsibility to prevent this,” he said.

The Sena leader called the Bangladeshis and Afghans living here illegally as the “biggest threat” to the city. He said all residents, no matter where they were from, would have to join hands to keep a check on them.

Uddhav said the Sena, however, was not against the slum-dwellers. He said the previous Sena-BJP government had drawn up an elaborate plan to house these people. “If we come to power, we are going to fulfil our policy,” he said.


Depthyr (Pahalgam), Oct. 19: 
Ten years ago it was like any other village, with farmers depending on the vagaries of the seasons. Today, it is an island of prosperity with plush bungalows, cars and motorcycles, courtesy the cultivation of “fakki” or hashish.

The change from paddy to hashish in this south Kashmir village, 3 km from Bejikhora, speaks of continued government apathy and neglect, which forced people to look for alternate means of livelihood.

“We have faced droughts and floods for years on end. People in the village had become frustrated with the government turning a blind eye to our problems. We were faced with hunger and the prospect of begging. The government forced us to look for alternate means of livelihood. And fakki provided us with easy money and a better future,” said Abu Sattar, a village elder.

Hashish seeds are sown during April-May and harvested in November. The annual yield per kanal (eight kanals equal one acre) is 2 kg, which fetches between Rs 10,000 and Rs 16,000 locally and Rs 1 lakh in Mumbai.

With no law in the state to prevent the cultivation of drugs, the administration is unable to discourage farmers from growing them. Last year, the administration destroyed 400 kanals and provided relief to farmers, but the majority of the produce found its way to the open market.

While many in the village admitted that hashish was not a moral way of earning a livelihood, they said it provided them with the means to live comfortably, build bungalows and even throw lavish wedding parties, something unheard of a decade ago.

However, the downside of hashish cultivation is also evident. Young boys puff cigarettes laced with drugs. The crime rate has increased. “Eve-teasing and gambling, which had not been heard of earlier, have become common,” lamented Nazir, a shopowner. Other villages in the vicinity are following in Depthyr’s footsteps. Kanlwan, Krindigam, Tulkhan, Sangam and Hafizabad have started cultivating hashish.

Narcotics are also entering the Valley from across the line of control in Kupwara and Parankot. Srinagar is fast emerging as a transit point for drugs.

Many couriers in Srinagar are women who have been forced into the trade by militants, said a police officer. “Peddling drugs is also a good way of earning money now that there is no tourist traffic in the valley. With high unemployment, it becomes easier to sell drugs to frustrated youths just out of college.

Militancy-related trauma is also forcing the young generation to take to narcotics. Non-availability of alcohol in villages has also helped the peddlers,” the officer revealed.

The cultivation of drugs and the growing number of peddlers in the valley have rung alarm bells in Army circles too.

“Earlier, drugs used to be pushed across from the border in Punjab. But with the border being electrified there, drugs are entering the Valley in huge quantities,” an army officier said.


New Delhi, Oct. 19: 
A study by the World Health Organisation brings alarming news for heart patients: 25 per cent of them run the risk of recurrence of a stroke.

As many as 1,800 people die each day in India from a stroke and its complications. “It is the most common disability,” says Swadeep Srivastava, director of Health Infotech.

According to the WHO report, the chance of recurrence of a stroke is the greatest after the first one. The risk decreases with time and can be effectively controlled with regular use of Perindropil, an anti-hypertension drug.

The study was conducted in over 10 countries from Asia, Australia and Europe. Neurologists say about three per cent of stroke patients may suffer another one within 30 days of the first one and one-third takes place within two years of the first attack.

“The current demographic trend suggests that the Indian population survives the peak years of the possibility of a stroke (55-65 years) with varying degrees of residual disability,” says Dr Pushpendra N. Renjen, consultant, department of neurology at Apollo Hospitals.

While 50 to 60 per cent of stroke can get back to leading a normal life, 15 to 30 per cent are permanently disabled.


Mumbai, Oct. 19: 
Children of India want to join America’s war against terrorism.

Hum bhi thore bare hote to hum bhi ladai ke liye naam dete (If we were a little older, we would have enlisted for the war),” swore a number of children in a survey conducted after the September 11 strikes.

Terror Tuesday has become a turning point for a generation, thanks to television. With US fighter planes swooping down on Afghanistan, children far away from America have given up soaps, movies, cartoons and even channel surfing to remain glued to news programmes and occasionally hoot for George Bush.

The study, titled “Terror on TV: Response of New Generation Viewers to the Recent Events in America”, was conducted by the New Delhi-based Centre for Advocacy and Research (CFAR) in the capital’s resettlement colonies as part of a Unicef project.

It questioned 70-80 children between 8 and 14 years from low-income families of Seemapuri, Kalyanpuri, Tigri and Dakshinpuri, and their “gatekeepers” — mothers and teachers — a group with which CFAR closely interacts for the Unicef project.

“Serials, films, cartoons and even advertisements were a priority with the children before. The only instance recently when news had caught the imagination of young minds was when the “monkey man” created havoc in the capital,” said Anuradha Mukherjee of CFAR, who was involved with the survey.

But things changed dramatically after the strikes on the World Trade Center. Not only were the children following news regularly, but also discussing it with their peer groups.

“My elder son is six years old but is watching news. He is not scared,” said a mother from Dakshinpuri. “My younger daughter asks, will we die? She asks about tanks and guns,” said another woman. Mostly the boys wanted to join war.

Aaj kaal to bacche bhi janna chah rahe hai ki kya baat hai. Woh bhi channel nahin badal rahe hai (Nowadays even children want to know what is going on. They are also not switching channels),” said a mother from Kalyanpuri.

The Aaj Tak channel, where both the news and the slugs appear in Hindi, is the most popular channel in the resettlement colonies. The televised images of people falling to their death from great heights and towers collapsing, shown again and again, have left a deep impact on the children.


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