Alert high for smugglers
Leopard census from Feb
Cong, BJP warm up for President race
Sangh temple cry stuns Centre
Jaya saffron tilt worries DMK
Code sinks in House turmoil
Finish school before you start your teens
Shimla tutorial for Afghan teachers
Facelift for Bodhgaya, Ajanta caves
Voted-out Mawlong clings on

Panitanki, Dec. 7: 
For 35-year-old Manjula Barui, it’s business as usual.

The mother-of-three heads a 12-member gang of cross-border “carriers” operating along the Indo-Nepal border. To her, the recent border high alert — sounded to stop Maoist insurgents from crossing over — means little.

At stake is a multi-crore industry, thriving on the smuggling of sophisticated electronic gadgets, readymade garments, consumer goods and cosmetics.

“We are not bothered about the Maoist problem in Nepal,” says Manjula. “All we are concerned with is whether the smuggling lines are open or not.” Or, in other words, whether authorities on both sides of the border are willing to play ball.

“Despite heavy deployment of security personnel along the border and the highways in the region, we can continue without the slightest hindrance. Neither the police, nor the customs officials bother us…. But, of course, we have to pay the regular hush money to the police along the smuggling route — Karibari, Naxalbari, Bagdogra, Matigara and Siliguri,” she added.

Raju Das echoed Manjula. His gang supplies contrabands to the newly-established Bagdogra “foreign goods” market at Bagdogra, some 10 km from Siliguri.

The smuggling chain originates from the thriving Dhulabari market in eastern Nepal’s Jhapa district. The shopkeepers “book” the goods at Dhulabari or get their assignments from Kathmandu. These are ferried over by over 400 “carriers” across the porous border.

The goods are either carried as “head loads” or are ferried in small vehicles across the Kakarvitta-Panitanki border checkposts. It is collected at border villages and sent to Siliguri either by bus and auto-rickshaws or the infamous “contraband train” -- the metre-gauge railway running parallel to the Indo-Nepal border, between Galgalia in Bihar and Siliguri.

“We don’t need to worry about the high alert…. Whenever a senior officer, either of the customs or the police, comes for a check, we are tipped off,” said Das.

The price for this? The Bagdogra cartel forks out some Rs 8 lakh to the police and customs to carry on business. “We also have to pay to highway patrols,” added Das.

But that’s small change compared with the earnings. The network has a daily turnover of around Rs 4 crore.

Besides supplying to the well known Hong Kong market, the carriers now supply to several new stalls at the state-owned Siliguri-Jalpaiguri Development Authority market complex inside the Tenzing Norgey central bus terminus in Siliguri. The chain also supplies goods to Calcutta and the Northeast.

Additional superintendent of police, Siliguri, Kaliappan Jayaraman, said: “We are concerned and aware that the business is continuing unabated. We have intensified highway patrolling and alerted all police stations along the border. Checking at border posts will be made more stringent.”


Calcutta, Dec. 7: 
A leopard census will be conducted in the north Bengal forests from February, forest minister Jogesh Burman said today.

The census was necessary as the government had no idea about the exact number of leopards in the north Bengal forests, the forest minister said. The forest department will finalise the programme after the ongoing tiger census is completed on December 14, he added.

This year’s tiger census started today in the Sunderbans and some other parts of South 24-Parganas. While 23 groups of employees are working inside the Sunderbans, eight groups are working in the other parts, Burman informed.

A mobile medical unit is accompanying the census employees and the forest department has taken all possible measures to avoid any untoward incident.


New Delhi, Dec. 7: 
With President K.R. Narayanan’s tenure to end in July next year, jockeying has already begun on who his successor would be. The BJP has taken the lead by sending feelers to the Congress on the need to evolve a consensus for both the President and the Vice-President’s posts.

The NDA coalition is hopelessly short of a majority in the electoral college that votes for the President. Going by its strength in state Assemblies, the alliance is falling short by as many as 44,000 votes. The gap, observers feel, might widen after the Uttar Pradesh, Punjab and Uttaranchal polls.

The alliance, however, has a distinct edge over the Opposition in case a contest becomes inevitable for the post of Vice-President, who is elected by MPs of both Houses.

Congress leaders say the BJP is keen to avoid a showdown and, therefore, came up with a formula that would allow the Opposition to stake claim over Rashtrapati Bhavan. In return, the National Democratic Alliance would like to push through its nominee for the Vice-President’s post.

BJP sources said “preliminary talks” have begun with political parties. They said Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Farooq Abdullah’s name is doing the rounds for the Vice-President’s post.

Highly placed sources justified Abdullah’s candidature, saying it would signal to the international community that Kashmir was an integral part of India. “K.R. Narayanan was selected when there was a lot of talk about Dalit empowerment,” said a senior minister who did not want to be quoted. “Now that Kashmir has become an international issue, Abdullah’s appointment would gel with our national interests.”

Congress leaders, too, said they had nothing against Abdullah if his name was cleared by the NDA. In such a scenario, another key claimant, Najma Heptullah, would be the loser.

The Congress today distanced itself from reports that Heptullah had approached CPM leader Jyoti Basu to solicit support for her candidature. Party spokesman Jaipal Reddy refused to confirm whether her initiative had the leadership’s blessings.

For presidential polls, sources close to Congress chief Sonia Gandhi maintained that if Narayanan desires another term, the main Opposition party would back him. But the BJP, which has had an uneven equation with the President, is not keen on this. In case Narayanan opts out, Sonia will consider the names of Karan Singh, P.C. Alexander and even Jyoti Basu.


New Delhi, Dec. 7: 
The RSS and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad’s determination to start constructing the Ram temple after the March 12 deadline has thrown the BJP into a tizzy.

So far, the party had hoped that the Sangh would use its “good offices” to rein in the more militant VHP from doing anything that could push the Vajpayee government into a corner.

But after RSS spokesman M.G. Vaidya’s declaration yesterday that the Sangh was fully behind the VHP on the temple issue, the BJP appeared confused.

Partymen consoled themselves, saying that unless RSS chief K.S. Sudarshan or Madan Das Devi, the joint-general secretary who heads the Sangh’s political wing, went on record proffering their support, the government was home and safe.

However, Vaidya was at pains yesterday to clarify that whatever he had said was in his capacity as the spokesman and not as an individual swayamsevak.

BJP sources interpreted the Sangh and the VHP’s pro-temple rhetoric as a sign of “frustration” and not “determination and confidence”.

“Too much water has flowed down the Saryu between 1993 and now. Our feedback is that the VHP’s programmes have not been able to rekindle the same degree of enthusiasm for the temple as in 1990, when L.K. Advani had taken out his Ram rath yatra,” said a BJP MP from Uttar Pradesh — the epicentre of the Ramjanmabhoomi-Babri Masjid dispute.

Observers say there are two reasons for the waning interest. When it began, the temple agitation coincided with the reservation issue and the implementation of the Mandal Commission recommendations.

Enraged upper-caste youths had found the temple a convenient mechanism to vent their anger against reservation for the backward castes.

Second, the VHP campaign had succeeded in projecting the Babri mosque as a symbol of “Hindu slavery by Islamic rulers” and hammered home the message that unless it was razed to the ground, the Hindu could not consider himself “truly liberated”.

But once the deed was done, even BJP leaders conceded that their main political plank was forever buried in the debris of the mosque.

Today, BJP sources admitted that their leaders had “coopted” the Mandal issue and gone several steps ahead by creating sub-quotas for the most backward castes and most backward Dalits in Uttar Pradesh.

BJP leaders claimed that if the VHP pressed ahead with its plans and breached the status quo in Ayodhya, the Centre would have no option but to “act” against it.


New Delhi, Dec. 7: 
The DMK is worried about reports of a possible reunion between the BJP and the ADMK.

DMK sources said its two central ministers, Murasoli Maran and T.R. Baalu, were “most perturbed” by speculation that it is a matter of time before the ADMK becomes part of the NDA. A senior BJP leader did not deny the reports. “Let us wait and watch for events to unfold,” he said.

But Maran and Baalu appear to be determined to hold on to their ministries and not allow the political flux to upset their equations with the BJP. Within the DMK, there was a feeling that if it were forced out of the NDA, it would lose “politically” not just at the Centre but in Tamil Nadu as well.

The BJP’s backing, sources said, had given the DMK the much-needed “protective shield” against ADMK chief Jayalalithaa.

DMK sources said even if Jayalalithaa was formally admitted into the NDA, the party might have no option but to continue with the coalition, for two reasons. First, the ministers would not want to leave and second, the DMK itself had a long way to go before it could firm up another alliance in Tamil Nadu with the Opposition.

But DMK chief M. Karunanidhi has signalled that he is not against the idea of returning to the secular front of the Congress and the Left. In Chennai, he refused to meet VHP working president Ashok Singhal today. Singhal had met Jayalalithaa yesterday to discuss the Ram temple.

Karunanidhi was quoted as telling reporters in Chennai: “The DMK has not changed its stand that the masjid, which was demolished, should be reconstructed at the disputed site.

But in an effort to stay on the right side of the Centre, the DMK has left it to the Telugu Desam to talk tough on the Prevention of Terrorism Ordinance. Jayalalithaa had declared her support for the law.

“We (the DMK) believe that the present government will not misuse (the) Prevention of Terrorism Ordinance for purely political ends, but there is a question mark over whether successive governments at the Centre will avert its misuse,” Karunanidhi said.

Opp. rejects changes

The Opposition today rejected the amenments made to the anti-terror law by the Centre yesterday, describing them as “cosmetic changes”. The Congress and the Left said the Bill would be opposed in Parliament.


New Delhi, Dec. 7: 
A day after the code of conduct for MPs came into effect, Lok Sabha was adjourned amid bedlam as rival lawmakers tore into each other plunging the House in turmoil and forcing the Speaker to wrap up proceedings.

The trouble erupted during Zero Hour, when the Congress’ attempt to raise the issue of five Central ministers reportedly attending a “secret” VHP meeting on the construction of the Ram temple was stonewalled by National Democratic Alliance members.

The Congress was supported by the CPM, CPI, the Samajwadi Party, the Rashtriya Janata Dal and the Bahujan Samaj Party.

The opposing camps clashed over which side should be allowed to speak first. Deputy Speaker P.M.Sayeed, who was in the chair, allowed Congress chief whip Priya Ranjan Das Munshi to take the floor though MDMK member Vaiko’s name was first on the list.

Virtually challenging the chair, ruling party MPs protested, saying Vaiko should be allowed to speak first, prompting Congress members to say it was the chair’s discretion whom to give the floor.

Most members were on their feet shouting as Das Munshi thundered they would not allow the House to run unless the government tendered an “unqualified” apology for defying the chair.

Sayeed also stuck to his stand. “In my judgement, I have given the floor to him (Das Munshi),” he said. “If you don’t accept it, I will adjourn the House.”

With the din continuing, Sayeed adjourned proceedings till 2 pm. When the House reassembled, the scene was repeated and Margaret Alva, who was in the chair, wrapped up proceedings.

Later, both the Congress and the BJP accused each other of stalling the proceedings.

“The manner in which all norms are being broken by the Opposition to express its views is condemnable. This sort of attitude is not correct in parliamentary democracy,” BJP spokesman V.K. Malhotra said. He said it was the opposition which owed an apology to the nation for the manner in which it disrupted proceedings in the House.

Congress spokesman Jaipal Reddy said if anyone has to apologise it should be parliamentary affairs minister Pramod Mahajan. The adjournment was not only “unfortunate but unnecessary”, the party said.


Mumbai, Dec. 7: 
They are being “finished” even before they have started.

The Orchid, India’s “first” finishing school, is catching them young. After years of teaching etiquette and deportment to grown-ups, the school has started a course for 9 to 13-year-olds.

But it’s not just about right table manners, right attire and right posture. It also means Vivaldi, Beethoven, Van Gogh and Bhimsen Joshi.

“When the children return from the course, they want their parents to buy them Bhimsen Joshi. I play a lot of classical music for them in the form of a game. I ask them to match a piece of music with the cassette cover,” says Neeraj Kabi, who teaches personality development, concentration, communication skills and teamwork.

As if that was not enough, the pre-teens get glimpses of great art, too. “I take up Van Gogh’s Sunflowers and ask one of the children to describe it to his or her partner. Then the partner draws up the famous painting from imagination,” says Kabi. Such exercises stretch the children’s creative potential, he says.

“We teach them Reiki, too. A child even taught his mother self-healing techniques learnt at the course, without knowing that it was Reiki. Then I teach them the basics of yoga, martial arts and dance, but only the traditional kind. We put the children on the right path,” Kabi adds.

The course, called The Orchid Junior, also stresses on self awareness, team work, understanding emotions, value education, hygiene, etiquette, nutrition, personal attire and posture.

All this in seven days, for Rs 8,750 per child (“tuition fees, lecture materials, course activities, breakfast, lunch and snacks”).

The results are palpable. “I improved my posture a lot,” says 12-year-old Assiya. She explains: “Posture means how you sit, how you walk. Before the course I was slovenly. Now I walk very well.” On second thoughts, she adds: “I also increased my self-confidence.” A student of Class VI, Assiya followed in after her elder sister joined the grooming course for seniors.

“We started the junior course because there was a lot of demand from the parents. We conduct it during the school holidays,” says Amrita Tahil, who, along with actress Anooradha Patel Singh, opened the school in 1987. This Christmas, The Orchid will have its fourth batch of kids. There are eight to 10 children, on an average, per batch.

But the parents, who are ready to shell out thousands on their children, seem keener on “development” than on “personality”. ”We talk to the parents before and after the course. Most of their complaints are about how badly their children are doing at school,” says Freny Italia, who teaches at the programme and is associated with an adolescent and children’s project run by the Tata Institute of Social Sciences. But the course doesn’t stress on academics, only overall development.

Italia takes a number of sessions, including one on problem-solving. “I ask them to write 10 with nine straight lines. It’s easy — you just have to write TEN. It has nine straight lines. It gives them another perspective on problem solving,” she says.

So the children have a whale of a time, but for some parents, the outcome of the course is a little obscure. “I took my child to the school because he lacked concentration,” says Mrs Gupta, mother of Nandan, all of 11. “My son has learnt a lot from the course. He has learnt good table manners and how to speak well, but there has been no improvement in his concentration,” she adds.

Nandan gleefully remembers that there were a lot of collages.

It’s the same for Mrs Agarwal, whose sons Rishav, 13, and Neerav, 9, took the course. “They have learnt to dress up on their own. They can also choose their own clothes now. As for self-confidence, I guess that has improved a little, too.”


Shimla, Dec. 7: 
The Shimla-based Society for Research in Education and Information Technology will help the interim government in Afghanistan restructure its education system with special emphasis on teacher training.

Society president and education reader at Himachal Pradesh University Keshav Sharma said the organisation was experienced enough to carry out such programmes “anywhere” in the world.

“We have written to the Afghan ambassador and the new chairman of the interim government in Kabul, Hamid Karzai, offering our services at very nominal costs. He has studied in Shimla and knows us. It would be an honour not only for India but also for the society if we were given a chance to set right the education structure there. We feel teachers have suffered immensely under the Taliban. Our offer is open from today,” Sharma said.

The society, established in 1972, works in army schools and holds stress management workshops for Jammu and Kashmir police. The main work of the society is to help school teachers sharpen teaching skills. It has established 18 chapters all over the country, including one in Calcutta.

The organisation, run on donations by members, also provides free consultancy in information technology to private institutions.

The NCERT, Sharma said, had no teachers’ training programme for private institutions.

Sharma hoped the new Afghan government would accept the society’s offer. “We are seeking nothing from them. We want to help them restructure their education system, which has collapsed, and train teachers afresh as we have been doing here. That would be the best way to contribute to the rebuilding of Afghanistan,” he added.

Sharma, who held stress management classes for the Jammu and Kashmir police top brass last week, said the organisation was providing services to the 140-odd army and army public schools in all the five commands at the request of the Army Welfare Education Society.

“While education is our main concern, stress management is important because we feel that the armed forces and the police are heavily burdened and need counselling. For the police, our workshop at the moment is only at the level of superintendents upwards to the DIG. We intend to broaden it to include lower ranks in the near future,” he added.

On the state of the Jammu and Kashmir police, Sharma said the force was fighting against all odds.

“They are on constant alert, something that their counterparts in other states do not face all the time. The policemen there are living on a razor’s edge. It is very unfortunate that despite fighting the nation’s war, their efforts have failed to get the recognition they deserve from our countrymen,” he lamented.

The society teaches both Indian and western techniques to overcome stress. “We make use of physical exercises, yoga and meditation to reduce stress. Jammu and Kashmir police have welcomed our suggestions in three workshops,” Sharma added.


New Delhi, Dec 7: 
Union minister for tourism and culture Jagmohan is promoting tourist circuits other than the traditionally popular destinations of Delhi, Agra and Jaipur.

Efforts to develop the Buddhist circuit of Sarnath-Bodhgaya-Rajgir-Nalanda are on the fast track. Similar steps are being taken to revamp the Ajanta-Ellora-Aurangabad circuit.

A super-fast road is being built to connect the Buddhist-circuit sites. The hospitality infrastructure is also being improved. Hudco has been appointed as consultants for preparing an urban development plan for Bodh Gaya.

The Ajanta-Ellora-Aurangabad circuit will also witness good roads that will stop at a T-junction a few kilometres away from the caves. From the junction, electric trolleys will take tourists to the heritage sites. This will protect the sites from vehicular pollution.

Inside the caves, the illumination will be “cool lights” achieved through optic fibre. Considerable attention will be paid to destination management with increase in the availability of rooms and other facilities.

In Delhi, Jagmohan has taken steps to improve heritage sites like Lodhi Gardens and Lal Kot, the remains of earliest Delhi. He has formed a committee to coordinate matters relating to the upkeep of these sites. Chaired by him, the panel also includes the chairman of the New Delhi municipal corporation and the director general of the Archaeological Survey of India.

Jagmohan said: “I have a passion to weave our own history and heritage in our urban fabric. At the same time, I want to make it relevant to our own times.”


Shillong, Dec. 7: 
The NCP-led People’s Forum of Meghalaya (PFM) today voted the E.K. Mawlong government out of power in an uproarious trial of strength in the Assembly, but the embattled chief minister refused to throw in the towel till caretaker Governor Arvind Dave objectively evaluated Speaker E.D. Marak’s ruling.

Forty-two legislators, all members of the newly-formed PFM, voted for the no-confidence motion against Mawlong, tabled by Robert G. Lyngdoh. The chief minister, however, accused the Speaker of admitting the motion in violation of rules and being blatantly biased towards the NCP-led coalition.

While Mawlong cried foul, chief minister-in-waiting Flinder Anderson Khonglam met the caretaker Governor and staked claim to form a new government, the sixth in Meghalaya in the span of just three years. Dave, who was sworn in only yesterday, told reporters later that he would review the Assembly proceedings before deciding on the issue. “I need time to take a decision. But let me clarify that there is no constitutional crisis,” he said.

NCP general secretary Purno A. Sangma said the PFM was confident that Dave will invite them to form the government.


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