Public health, private cure
Stage set for six-day week
Wetlands make room for flats
Influx red alert
Gaddafi Jr brings generous Ramazan gift
VHP seeks slice of Bangladesh
Grown-up govt lines up AIDS chat show
Veil of secrecy on Harrison’s return to roots
Pokhran hero fails to find place in Isro
Jogi caught in book row

 
 
PUBLIC HEALTH, PRIVATE CURE 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Dec. 3: 
In times of globalisation, good health services should also be taken as a commodity and all should be prepared to buy it, health minister Suryakanta Mishra said today. He was inaugurating an eye clinic of the Anandalok Hospital at Salt Lake on the occasion of international day for the physically challenged.

The minister rolled out the red carpet for private investors in the health sector, for, he felt such investment could only bridge the gap in managing hospitals and conducting research programmes in and outside the city.

He promised to provide prospective investors with land and other infrastructure facilities at Salt Lake — a preferred destination for private investors – or anywhere in the state in no time if the proposal was worthwhile.

Mishra announced that the government would set up a medical university at Salt Lake on the land which had earlier been earmarked for a housing complex for the state police.

He felt private investors and NGOs must come forward in a big way if people were to be provided with quality services – a candid admission that the services provided at present were not up to mark. “Of late, we have started a clean-up process in government hospitals -- in all sense (of the word). I believe things will look up shortly,” Mishra said.

Detailing “achievements” during the past six months, the minister said government hospitals had been made free from unauthorised occupants and exploitation by special-duty assistants had been checked.

“We are bent on bringing back discipline among doctors, nursing staff and other health employees,” Mishra said.

“One of the major problems in government-run hospitals, whether be it in the city or in the districts, is that they are mostly overcrowded. Individual attention is next to impossible in any government healing centre,” Mishra admitted.

More than 70 per cent of the state’s population depend on government hospitals. “The only alternative to provide better health services is to encourage private investors in this field,” Mishra added.

The minister said that charges in government hospitals had recently been raised but assured that at no stage would they be higher than in private nursing homes.

D.K.Saraf, secretary of Anandalok Hospital, promised to provide quality services to the middle class and lower income group people at the cheapest cost.

One can avail of an eye examination for Rs 20 and a bypass surgery at Rs 45,000, Saraf said.

   

 
 
STAGE SET FOR SIX-DAY WEEK 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Dec. 3: 
The CPM-controlled state co-ordination committee today sent out a message to the Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee government that it was willing to cooperate on certain issues but indicated clearly that it would hold its ground on some key areas.

While the committee said it was willing to consider a proposal to go back to the six-day-week system that Jyoti Basu’s government had scrapped in the mid-90s, it was categorical that longer working hours would not be tolerated.

“We are ready to consider the government’s proposal to reintroduce the six-day-week system,” Smarajit Roychowdhury, general secretary of the committee, said.

The government, he added, had on its own introduced the five-day-week system in order to reduce expenditure. “We never demanded a five-day week. We will not oppose the government once they reintroduce the old six-day week system,” he said.

Roychowdhury said he hardly saw any difference between Basu’s and Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s governments’ approach to improving the work culture in government establishments.

“Like now, a number of circulars had been issued during the Basu government’s term in office. Buddha-babu’s government is doing it the same way…. I don’t see any basic difference between the two governments in their efforts to improve the work culture,” he said.

He denied allegations by some ministers that a section of the government employees shirk their responsibilities and block the government’s plan for rapid industrialisation of the state.

“None of our members neglect their duties. In fact, a section of senior government officers fail to supervise the jobs done by the employees and motivate them to their work,” he alleged.

“Moreover, we have instructed all our members and leaders to attend duties on time and not to neglect their official assignments. Even any of our leader, however powerful he may be, is bound to go by this instruction,” Roychowdhury said.

But his committee had been responsible for scuttling Bhattacharjee’s plans of introducing smart cards for government employees. This was planned last November and would have helped register the time an employee came to office and left.

   

 
 
WETLANDS MAKE ROOM FOR FLATS 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Malda, Dec. 3: 
Defying chief minister Buddhadeb Bhatacharjee’s orders, promoters, allegedly backed by some municipal employees, are filling up wetlands in and around Malda town to build a housing complex.

The promoters are currently filling up a wetland measuring 60 bighas at a prime location in the town.

“We resisted the promoters’ men from filling up wetlands and forced them to stop work. We also brought the matter to the notice of the municipality and district administration. But no action was taken,” said Bhusan Roy, a resident of the area. He said he had written to fisheries minister Kiranmoy Nanda, seeking his intervention.

The fisheries minister, who recently stopped filling of wetlands in Baranagar and Salt Lake, asked the district administration to take steps immediately. District magistrate Ashoke Bala has ordered an inquiry.

“I wonder how the promoters have already filled up a portion of the vast wetlands. However, in no case shall I tolerate it,” Nanda said. However, the chairman of Englishbazar municipality Krishnendu Chowdhury denied any links with the promoter. “I have no idea who is filling up the wetlands. But none of the Trinamul councillor is involved,” he said.

According to the local people, the sewerage system in the entire municipal area will collapse if the promoters fill up the wetland.

   

 
 
INFLUX RED ALERT 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Dec. 3: 
Alarmed at the steady infiltration of some fundamentalist activists from Bangladesh, divisional commissioner of Jalpaiguri division A.K. Jain issued a directive to all six district magistrates and superintendents of police of Cooch Behar, Darjeeling, Jalpaiguri, Uttar Dinajpur, Dakshin Dinajpur and Malda to step up vigil along the border.

Jain’s directive follows an intelligence report from the army revealing that a group of Bangladeshi fundamentalist organisations have planned to cross over into the Indian territory through north Bengal districts in a bid to mobilise the minorities here against the recent Indo-US co-operation in tackling international terrorism.

Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee held a meeting with senior government and police officials, including director-general of police Dinesh Vajpai, last week to assess the situation in north Bengal districts arising out the infiltration of Bangladeshi fundamentalist groups.

Writers’ Buildings sources said Bhattacharjee asked newly-appointed chief secretary Sourin Roy to take up the matter with the Border Security Force personnel.

“We have put the administration on full alert on the basis of intelligence reports. We have taken all possible measures to stop the entry of activists from Bangladesh,” Jain said over thephone.

He said a meeting will be held with to “sensitise” the administration and put officers on alert. “Those having no proper identity cards will be stopped on the border,” he said.

An official said some fundamentalist activists had held a meeting in Malda taking the district administration by surprise. “A probe has been ordered to find out how the groups managed to hold the meeting,” he added.

   

 
 
GADDAFI JR BRINGS GENEROUS RAMAZAN GIFT 
 
 
FROM RASHEED KIDWAI
 
New Delhi, Dec. 3: 
Libya may face global sanctions and economic hardship but none of this has deterred the Gaddafi clan from being generous.

Gaddafi Junior, Saif-ul-Islam Muammar Gaddafi, arrived in the capital today and lived up to his family’s reputation. He signed a cheque for $ 8,00,000 — which translates into a whopping Rs 3 crore and 76 lakh — for the Indian Islamic Centre.

Saif-ul-Islam, an engineer by training, heads the Gaddafi Charities. Not surprisingly, he chose the holy month of Ramazan for charitable acts. Charity is one of the five basic tenets of Islam and one of the reasons for observing Ramazan is to allow the rich to share their wealth with the poor.

Gaddafi Junior will not confine himself to Delhi. He plans to visit Moradabad, Deoband, Bareilly in Uttar Pradesh and then go to Jaipur.

The community leaders are keenly awaiting his next burst of munificence.

Old-timers recalled how Colonel Muammar Gaddafi doled out $ 2 million in 1974 as a “tip” to the host at the inaugural session of the Conference of Islamic Countries in Lahore. The Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto regime built the Gaddafi mosque and the Gaddafi stadium with the money.

Gaddafi Junior visited the Islamic centre during iftar and broke bread with about 2,000 rozedars, including Shahi Imam of Delhi Syed Ahmad Bukhari, Islamic centre chairman Moosa Raza and chairman of the Delhi Haj Committee, Anis Durrani.

He then offered Magrib prayers along with others. Community leaders painted him as a devout Muslim, pointing at the 25-year old’s shaven head. “He is coming from Mecca and Madina after undergoing umrah (mini Haj),” said a local leader with an air of authority.

The Islamic centre’s office-bearers could hardly believe the figure on the cheque. “It is going to solve all our financial problems,” a beaming Moosa Raza said.

Indira Gandhi had sanctioned land for the Islamic centre for cultural and religious activities in the eighties in the plush Lodhi Road area.

But for the past 17 years, Muslim scholars, intellectuals, businessmen and community leaders could not raise funds for construction.

Gaddafi Junior will be calling on Congress president Sonia Gandhi tomorrow. He plans to extend an invitation to Sonia to visit Tripoli. Libyan embassy officials said he could call on foreign minister Jaswant Singh and other government functionaries. “India and Libya have good relations and Saif-ul-Islam would cement our ties,” said an official of the Libyan embassy.

   

 
 
VHP SEEKS SLICE OF BANGLADESH 
 
 
FROM RADHIKA RAMASESHAN
 
New Delhi, Dec. 3: 
VHP international working president Ash-ok Singhal has embarrassed the Vajpayee government with his demand for the bifurcation of Bangladesh and the creation of a separate “homeland” for its Hindus.

Addressing a press conference here today, Singhal announced that the VHP would lead a march on Wednesdayfrom the capital’s Ram Lila Maidan to foreign minister Jaswant Singh’s office to present a memorandum demanding Bangladesh’s truncation in view of the atrocities against Hindus allegedly committed under the Khaleda Zia regime.

Singhal asked Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee to warn Bangladesh to stop the “violence”. “When similar incidents had taken place against Indians living in Nepal, Vajpayee ticked off the government and the Maoists stopped their violent acts,” he said.

Singhal criticised the Centre for not treating the Bangladesh incidents with the “seriousness” they merited. Referring to the Dhaka mission undertaken by the Prime Minister’s principal secretary, Brajesh Mishra — which the VHP had earlier dubbed as “completely ineffective” — he said: “Sending a mere government representative doesn’t help. When I met Jaswant Singh recently, I emphasised that he should involve himself personally.”

He was equally dismissive of the Prevention of Terrorism Ordinance and said it was “too soft” to take on terrorists.

Asked if his demand for a “Hindu homeland” would not fuel similar secessionist sentiments in India, Singhal said: “When no atrocities have been committed against Muslims and other groups why should they ask for a separate homeland?”

The VHP chief warned that the alleged victimisation of Hindus in Bangladesh would have serious consequences. “It won’t be long before the country’s atmosphere will be vitiated. If they do something, our youths will not keep quiet either.”

Singhal also alleged that the recent Naxalite attacks in Andhra Pradesh and Orissa were “ISI-sponsored”. “All forms of terrorism, Naxalite, Maoist violence, are all part of this.”

Asked if he had proof to back his charge, he said: “I have information and I will unload it in front of you at an appropriate time. The ISI has trained these Naxalites and Maoists. They are all by-products of the ISI and all this violence is nothing but Talibanisation.”

Queried on why the VHP was not reacting to home minister L.K. Advani’s reluctance to come up with his promised White Paper on the ISI, Singhal said: “Yes, such an allegation has been levelled and he has to answer it. The fact is fingers have been pointed at him (Advani).”

Bank passbook row

Singhal and Acharya Giriraj Kishore have demanded action against some State Bank of India officials in Chennai for putting the teachings of Islam on the front cover of passbooks.

The VHP leaders said nearly one lakh copies of these passbooks were distributed among bank customers while another nine lakh were in the pipeline.

The two leaders alleged that this was a misuse of government money and abuse of official position by some officers of the nationalised bank.

   

 
 
GROWN-UP GOVT LINES UP AIDS CHAT SHOW 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Dec. 3: 
For a government shy of including sex education in the school curriculum, hosting a chat show on AIDS on its channel — Doordarshan — is surely a step forward.

To increase awareness on AIDS, the National AIDS Control Organisation (NACO) — an arm of the Union health ministry — has put together two chat shows in Hindi and English.

Neena Gupta and Mallika Sarabhai will anchor the shows. Khamoshi Kyon, presented by Gupta in Hindi, will begin this Wednesday at 10 pm on Doordarshan.

Sarabhai’s English show Chat Positive will begin on December 15 on Zee News at 2 pm.

“These will be interactive sessions with an audience drawn from students, parents, young people. There will be an expert panel to discuss various dimensions of AIDS,” said J.V.R. Prasada Rao, NACO director, at a press conference today. Health minister C.P. Thakur was also present at the press meet.

The NACO representatives had reasons to feel pleased. First, the organisation had taken the lead to break a social taboo. It also revealed its latest report on population behavioural surveillance, which showed awareness on AIDS at 76 per cent of the rural and urban population even when the literacy rate stood at 62 per cent.

The study revealed a significant rise in awareness about AIDS. However, awareness level was low in states like Bihar, Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and West Bengal. The report, largest ever of its kind, surveyed over 80,000 people.

Since the study showed television to be the most popular medium with Doordarshan having the widest reach, the government’s decision to host chat shows may help thaw the social ice on AIDS, which continues to be a taboo.

Most people interviewed in the study were aware how AIDS was transmitted unlike in the past when people had little knowledge about the channels of infection.

Over 77 per cent males and 64 per cent women were aware that AIDS could be transmitted by sharing needles while over 54 per cent knew that the disease could be transmitted through breast-feeding.

Mother-to-child transmission of AIDS is the largest source of HIV infection in children below 15 years of age. The government today approved a plan to extend the programme for prevention of mother-to-child transmission, which will come into effect from February next year.

Over 50 per cent of respondents in the study knew that the risk of AIDS could be minimised by having one partner and a long-term relationship.

Over 51 percent of males reported using condoms the last time they had sex with non-regular partners as against 39.8 per cent of women.

The government maintained that the number of HIV-infected people was not exaggerated. But it added that with increasing awareness, the spread of AIDS was getting under control. “Awareness has come to this level because of our efforts and now we are slowly reaching a plateau on AIDS,” said health secretary Javed Choudhury.

   

 
 
VEIL OF SECRECY ON HARRISON’S RETURN TO ROOTS 
 
 
FROM ANAND SOONDAS
 
Allahabad/Varanasi, Dec. 3: 
“Get back, get back, to where you once belonged,” the Beatles had sung, driving a generation to search for its roots. Tomorrow, one of them will come back to what he always called his spiritual home.

George Harrison’s widow Olivia and son Dhani will arrive at Varanasi airport before morning breaks, carrying the ashes of the “Quiet Beatle”.

In ceremonies at Varanasi and Allahabad, Harrison’s ashes will be sprinkled over the Ganga and the Yamuna, as he had wished.

Officials of Iskcon, the Hare Krishna sect to which he belonged, said the ashes will first be taken to the Iskcon temple at Varanasi, and from there to Dashaswamedh Ghat and immersed in the Ganga. A part of the ashes will then be taken to the Iskcon temple at Baluaghat in Allahabad and sprinkled over the Yamuna that flows near it.

The last ritual is shrouded in the enigma Harrison was in life. Perhaps in deference to his nature of shunning the limelight, in death his family is ensuring he goes as quietly as possible. Some Iskcon officials even said the ceremony had taken place already: Olivia and Dhani had come and gone.

Through most part of the day Alok Tandon, Varanasi’s district magistrate, had “no idea” of the “Harrison event”. Neither did Vikram Singh, Varanasi police chief, who said he would “look into what was happening”. The home department in Lucknow had no clue either.

Working in tandem, Iskcon offices in Varanasi, Allahabad and Mumbai pleaded ignorance of Olivia and Dhani’s plans. Most were simply happy to talk about Harrison’s contribution to Iskcon and his gift of a manor in England for a temple. It took a whole day for Sanjay Das, an Iskcon devotee at Varanasi, to confirm that Harrison’s family would land at Varanasi around 3.30 am.

British newspapers have reported that they are flying from Los Angeles, where the musician died last Thursday, reportedly chanting Hare Krishna with his family by his side and pictures of Ram and Krishna near his bed.

The air traffic control at Varanasi knew nothing about the landing plan of the chartered aircraft that will bring Olivia and Dhani, saying that the airport, as everyday, will remain closed till 9 am. But “the airport can be opened at half-an-hour’s notice,” said an official.

The secrecy around the ceremony has disappointed some of his fans who had hoped to share “the last few moments with him”. But an Iskcon spokesman said the family wanted to keep it “very private”.

Avijit Pathak is “hurt”, believing that the administration is “deliberately creating confusion”. Eyes moist, Pathak said: “You know there are many I know who would have come to Varansi just to witness Harrison’s ashes being immersed in the Ganga. We just wanted to pray for him and be there in a place where he always felt most at home, but no one is ready to tell anything.”

At Iskcon, a devotee said: “It is not a media event, we should not create any noise about it.”

The winter having driven most pilgrims away, it is also a quiet Ganga that awaits Harrison.

   

 
 
POKHRAN HERO FAILS TO FIND PLACE IN ISRO 
 
 
FROM HABIB BEARY
 
Bangalore, Dec. 3: 
India’s missile man Abdul Kalam has not found a slot in the country’s space headquarters.

That could be the reason why he has not settled down at the prestigious Indian Institute of Science (IISC), where he wanted to mingle with young scientists.

Kalam, who fathered Pokhran-II, closed his Delhi chapter as scientific adviser to the government last month. He was to head a chair constituted in the memory of Brahma Prakash by the Indian Space Research Organisation. Kalam considers Prakash, who made a name as metallurgy scientist, his “guru”.

But sources at IISC and Isro said institute authorities were lukewarm to Kalam’s decision to move to Bangalore. They said Isro was finding it difficult to accommodate one more retired luminary among its several advisers. Two retired Isro chairmen — Satish Dhawan and U.R. Rao — are still holding advisory posts as members of the space commission.

Although Rao was recently appointed chairman of Prasar Bharati, sources said he was showing no signs of budging from the Isro headquarters.

Kalam was to be placed in the Isro-IISC cell, where the space institute sponsors research worth Rs 1 crore every year. Some of the projects are associated with the Defence Research Development Organisation.

But Kalam wants to move to Bangalore. “I love this city and it is special to me. I have fond memories of it,” he said. He began his career as a senior scientific assistant with the Aeronautical Development Establishment here in 1957.

Kalam is now talking of touring the country to meet young people and share their dreams and ignite in them a passion for science. “I want to meet at least one lakh children by 2003.”

   

 
 
JOGI CAUGHT IN BOOK ROW 
 
 
FROM SUCHANDANA GUPTA
 
Raipur, Dec. 3: 
The storm over his tribal status is yet to die down but Chhattisgarh chief minister Ajit Jogi has already found himself in another controversy.

The author of the banned book Brahman Kumar Ravan Ko Mat Maro has claimed that Jogi was the “inspiration” behind the volume. Though the publisher, printer and author have been arrested, Jogi is still having to contend with a very vocal BJP.

Trouble started after the author, Nand Kumar Baghel, who is the father of Jogi’s revenue minister Bhupesh Baghel, held a series of public meetings claiming he was “inspired” to write the book after Jogi became chief minister. Jogi claims he is a tribal Christian. Baghel belongs to a Scheduled Tribe.

The book was never officially released and no one can remember exactly when it hit the stands till it became the centre of a caste controversy about a month ago.

Around mid-October, Chhattisgarh went berserk with every man looking for a copy after word spread that the book eulogised Jogi as a demigod who had thrown an open challenge to upper-caste Hindus who dominate Indian politics. The book contained Jogi’s photograph and the author’s preface called the chief minister his “inspiration”.

Veteran Congress leader V.C. Shukla, Jogi’s chief bete noire, shoved more fuel into the fire after he said Baghel had openly spoken against upper-caste Hindus at a farmers’ conference in Kasdol on April 16, where Jogi was also present. “Baghel has now written down his thoughts. It has been published,” Shukla added on October 22.

Jogi denied being anybody’s “inspiration”. “I have never given permission to the author to consider me as an inspiration for such a book. I want to make it clear that I do not agree with the thoughts and views of the author,” he said.

To prove his point, Jogi ordered the book to be banned. The police raided the printing press at Saraswati Nagar and seized 180 hardcover copies and 2,681 paperbacks. The printer and publisher were arrested that night but it was not until November 4 that the author was picked up. Baghel is now out on bail.

But just when Jogi thought the storm had blown over, the state BJP raked up the issue again. On Tuesday, BJP leader Brij Mohan Agarwal brought up the issue in the Assembly under a call attention motion. Agarwal quizzed home minister Nand Kumar Patel asking him on what grounds the book was banned. When Patel said the administration feared possible communal tension, Agarwal asked him why there had been delay in banning the book and in the arrest of the author.

The home minister retaliated, saying he knew some BJP MLAs had copies of the volume and threatened to arrest them. He also said marshalls be allowed to search the members for copies so that police action could be taken against them. It triggered another fusillade.

“Your chief minister is the inspiration behind a book with nasty comments aimed at a religion. Your minister’s father is the author of the book and you threaten to arrest us,” the BJP MLAs roared and walked out after demanding the home minister’s resignation, forcing the deputy speaker to adjourn proceedings.

Patel later apologised, but the BJP is far from satisfied. It now wants a high-level committee to probe the contents of the book, including the bit on “inspiration”.

   
 

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