Lone blow to polio drive
Trams signal fare hike
Heady money for hoods
Reform or die, Buddha tells rebels
Militant ‘eyewash’ on Bhutan jungle camps
Bulb charade kills whale shark
Pay clinics for faster services
Panja strikes with ‘real’ Trinamul
Gujarat looks to heavens, quake victims to Delhi
Delhi school in Afghan chapter

 
 
LONE BLOW TO POLIO DRIVE 
 
 
BY AMIT UKIL
 
Calcutta, Jan. 1: 
The parents of 11-month-old Ghulam Jilani are ruing their folly. Health workers had thrice visited their home on Santoshpur Road in Makalhati, Maheshtala, seeking to administer polio drops to the baby. They had refused.

Last week, the National Institute of Virology in Pune confirmed that his stool samples sent from Calcutta contained the wild polio virus. The baby became the only case in entire Bengal to be detected with poliomyelitis in 2001. Since there is no medication, the boy will need rehabilitation and physiotherapy, so that the effects of paralysis on his legs are minimal.

The family is among the 25 to 30 in the south Calcutta suburb that have resisted polio vaccination drives for some years. “The parents of about 160 children below five years (the age till which polio drops are administered) have turned away health workers, apart from not turning up themselves at polio camps, as they believe in some myths,” said Samar Biswas, medical officer of the National Polio Surveillance Programme in charge of South 24-Parganas.

Among the false notions are that the drops will lead to the boy becoming sterile, or that the vaccine will result in illness for the baby. “Their conviction is so strong that several attempts to explain the benefits, even by political and religious leaders, have been of little use.” Ironically, the Jilani family do not live in a slum, where the probability of infection is high. But their three-storeyed building is surrounded by unhygienic conditions.

At a time when the world is striving to eradicate polio, sub-Saharan Africa and India remain the two major regions where new cases are still being detected. The detection in Maheshtala, adjacent to Ward 135 in the Garden Reach area, is being seen as a setback to the numerous pulse polio drives carried out in the state, coming as it did at the end of an otherwise polio-free year.

Officials of the health department and the national programme are, however, optimistic. “In 1999, there were 21 new cases of polio in Bengal. In 2000, this came down to eight, with two being detected in Calcutta neighbourhoods. Last year would have, for the first time, been a year without any new cases. But the fact that only one case was detected is evidence that the polio drives are effective,” said director of family welfare D.K. Ghorai.

The drive, undertaken in collaboration with WHO, seeks to make the country polio-free by 2005, the new target set by the international health body. To achieve the target, efforts will have to be taken to overcome “resistance pockets” like Maheshtala. Awareness drives will be undertaken, along with routine immunisation, so that the virus does not spread to other children.

   

 
 
TRAMS SIGNAL FARE HIKE 
 
 
BY OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Calcutta, Jan. 1: 
Unable to bear its spiralling expenses, Calcutta Tramways Company has sent a proposal to the state government for increasing the fare structure in the current year.

“We are left with no option but to increase the fare to meet our daily losses,” said CTC managing director Sudhir De. He said the decision was taken at the company’s board meeting held on December 21.

De told Metro on Monday that the tram fare was last increased in 1999, even though the fares of government buses had been hiked thrice since 1997.

Detailing the proposed fare hike, he said the minimum fare stage will be increased from Rs 1.75 to Rs 2, while the second-stage fare of Rs 2.25 will be hiked to Rs 2.50. “We shall implement the raised fares after the transport department okays the proposal,” he added.

According to CTC sources, the company, on an average, incurs losses of nearly Rs 50,000 a day for running its fleet in the city. “In fact, costs have increased phenomenally these days for repairing damaged tracks,” said an official.

He said Calcutta Municipal Corporation has already asked the management to repair the tracks without delay. “Despite a funds cruch, we have to carry out repairs of the tram tracks, which are heavily damaged,” he added.

   

 
 
HEADY MONEY FOR HOODS 
 
 
BY BAPPA MAJUMDAR
 
Calcutta, Jan. 1: 
From Malcolm to Gabbar and Sona to Md Ansar, the police have found evidence to believe that hardcore criminals are making most of their money from drug-trafficking these days.

Confessions made by Md Fahemuddin, alias Sona, picked up from Shyambazar on Sunday and the recently-arrested Gabbar, who had hoodwinked the police for several months, reveal the gangsters’ craze for “easy money” from drug-trafficking.

“Gone are those days when extortion was their main source of sustenance. Now, they have tasted blood. It was Sona who showed the way to Gabbar, how to make thousands of rupees by merely sheltering drug-traffickers. But he never shared any money with Gabbar,” said a senior police official of the detective department on Tuesday.

The police, which had earlier identified Ghulam Jilani Khan Road as the nerve centre for distribution of drug consignments, learnt after the recent arrests that areas like Salt Lake, Park Street and Taltala in the city and Howrah town have turned into distribution points for drugs, mainly heroin and ganja, coming from other states.

The scenario is no different in Howrah. Drug-peddling is on a steady rise, if statistics are anything to go by there. From 14 arrests in 1999 to 50 in 2001, the Howrah police have their hands full. “Drug-peddling is definitely on the rise. We are taking steps to break the nexus,” said superintendent of police (Howrah) C.V. Murlidhar on Tuesday.

Interrogation of Sona during the past 24 hours revealed how he had made thousands of rupees from providing protection to drug lords. “ At the behest of a Tiljala crimelord, who recently hit the headlines, Sona would collect money from the drug mafia for the past few years. He has confessed this during interrogation,” the officer said. Sona has also been charged with providing safe passage to the abductors of Khadim’s vice-chairman Parthapratim Roy Burman.

Investigations have revealed that druglords earn lakhs from areas like Park Street, Taltala, Topsia, Tangra, Entally, Beniapukur and Karaya, with complete support from criminals.

Officials said that a few months before his arrest, Gabbar had asked Sona and Md Ansar, another criminal, to share some of the wealth, a proposal they flatly refused on the pretext that they were clean and had given up the trade. “In the beginning, I did not want tainted money, but later, I realised that I could make a lot from drugs,” Gabbar reportedly admitted during a grilling session.

Gabbar had ambushed a drug consignment escorted by Md Ansar a few weeks ago. “I put a revolver to his head and asked for my share of money, since he was operating in my area. Ansar asked me ‘Ek baar khaoge, ke baar-baar khaoge (do you want the money in lumpsum or on a regular basis)?’ He gave me Rs 10 lakh,” Gabbar told investigators.

The Gabbar-Ansar nexus took off from there. Ansar offered him Rs 4,000 per thana every day and Gabbar ensured that the consignment reached the right person on time. “The main area of operation before Gabbar fled the city was Taltala and Park Street. Sona and his Tiljaja associate creamed other parts of the city,” the official said.

Drug consignments flow into the city from Nagaland and Uttar Pradesh. The police have identified Siliguri in the north and Murshidabad, Behrampore and Burdwan as key “dropping points” of the consignments before they reach the city through Durgapur and Orissa.

   

 
 
REFORM OR DIE, BUDDHA TELLS REBELS 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Tamluk, Jan. 1: 
Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee asked activists of People’s War, which is active in Midnapore, to eschew violence and help in the development of the district.

“My government will not tolerate such mindless violence unleashed by armed PWG activists in Midnapore. They should either shun their politics of violence or prepare themselves to die,” the chief minister said today while announcing the bifurcation of Midnapore at the Tamluk Rakhal Memorial football ground.

“We have given them enough warning to leave Bengal. They are outsiders and entered the jungles of Midnapore to foment trouble in this state. Our police force is fully prepared to meet any challenge from them. We may deploy more forces, if necessary, to deal with PWG menace in the district,” Buddha said.

The 10,000-strong crowd cheered when the chief minister formally announced the creation of Purba Midnapore district with Tamluk as its headquarters at noon.

Fireworks and hundreds of balloons added colour to the ceremony. All government buildings in the town were decorated with colourful lights.

The chief minister said the decision to bifurcate the mammoth district was taken to facilitate development work. He announced a package of development projects for the district on the occasion.

These include modernisation of the Shankarpur fishing harbour and bringing supplies of natural gas from Myanmar through under-sea pipelines to Digha coast and from there to Haldia to set up gas-based small industries, as well as government support to small farmers and fishermen.

The chief minister also announced that a medical college would soon be set up in Paschim Midnapore.

At the Tamluk function, chief secretary Sourin Ray introduced newly appointed district magistrate Anil Verma and superintendent of police Anuj Sharma to the people.

But while Tamluk was full of light, Contai observed a total blackout in the evening to protest the rejecting of the demand to set up the district headquarters there. Trinamul Congress MLA Nirbed Roy, as well as the TMC councillor of the municipality, boycotted the ceremony alleging that they were not “properly invited”.

However, Trinamul did not officially oppose the bifurcation and party flags were displayed all-along the 17-km road from Mecheda to Tamluk meeting ground.

   

 
 
MILITANT ‘EYEWASH’ ON BHUTAN JUNGLE CAMPS 
 
 
FROM PROBIR PRAMANIK
 
Siliguri, Jan. 1: 
Militants, especially of the United Liberation Front of Asom, have “relocated” some of their camps deep inside Bhutan as the December 31 deadline to clear out of its southern jungles expired, according to Indian intelligence officials.

While Bhutan has claimed that the Ulfa has dismantled two camps in south Bhutan, Indian agencies monitoring the developments on the Indo-Bhutan border said the militants have merely relocated them deeper in the jungles of south Bhutan.

“The Bhutanese authorities have claimed that the Ulfa has dismantled two of its camps in the Samdrupjongkhar area of Sabrang district in south Bhutan,” an intelligence official said.

“The so-called shifting is only eyewash. We have specific information that the militants have merely relocated these camps to more interior, inaccessible and densely-forested areas around Udangnala, Bhumgthang and Mongtar north of Gelekphu district in south Bhutan,” he added.

“The militants have merely shifted their arsenal deeper inland. The two camps that the Ulfa has reportedly abandoned are the Diafam “area command” camp and Dhansergaon field training camp in Samdrupjongkhar. The camps have been amalgamated at the new training hub at Udangnala, 30 km north of Gelekphu,” a military intelligence official said.

“The militant outfit has, however, shifted its area command camp further north to Bhumthang. Ulfa deputy commander-in-chief Raju Barua is believed to have shifted to this area command camp,” he added.

“The militants are, however, still well entrenched in their camps at Kalikhola above the Bengal-Assam-Bhutan tri-junction. They mostly use Kalikhola and Gelekphu in the east as their major supply routes and need to keep that front open,” he said.

“The insurgents are concentrated at the Tintale-Lamchey area in the Nichula forest. Though we have information that a few KLO militants undergoing arms training in the camps have moved out, the Ulfa and the NDFB are still present at these camps,” the official added.

India has intensified patrolling along the Indo-Bhutan border, particularly in Jalpaiguri district in Bengal and Kokrajhar district in Assam, fearing a spillover after Bhutanese armed forces launch a flushout operation. Sleuths apprehend that the militants might try to sneak through India to new camps set up in Bangladesh.

“Besides posting a detachment of the 16 Jat Regiment at the New Land division of the Sankosh tea estate near the Indo-Bhutan border, the Jalpaiguri district administration has deployed CRPF, district commando forces, Rapid Action Force personnel and the local police along the border,” a senior district police official said.

However, sleuths believe that the Ulfa may prefer the Ripu reserve forest-Kokrajhar route into Bangladesh.

   

 
 
BULB CHARADE KILLS WHALE SHARK 
 
 
DEEPANKAR GANGULY
 
Digha, Jan. 1: 
A giant whale shark was tortured to death on Saturday by local urchins on the Digha beach under the gaze of forest and fisheries officials.

Eyewitnesses said on Monday the beached whale shark, an endangered species weighing about 1,200 kilos, was buried in the sand in full public view, after it died on Saturday.

The urchins had forced open its jaws when the creature was alive, fitted a battery-operated bulb covered with red transparent paper into its mouth and switched it on to attract crowds.

With police looking the other way, the urchins collected Rs 50,000 in 36 hours by charging Rs 2 per head for a ringside view of the animal.

After the fish, died the police “ordered” its burial. Though many watched this, a tourist with a camera was shooed away from the spot by the urchins.

The whale shark belongs to the Rhinocodon tidae family and is a rarity in Digha.

Despite its awesome size, the fish, which has a distinctive grey back accentuated by yellow dots, is harmless as its lacks the sharp teeth characteristic of a shark and thus lives off plants and small fish.

The whale shark, which had got entangled in a net thrown into the sea from a fishing trawler, was towed to the shore on Friday morning.

Within minutes, rumours of a “deadly man eater” being caught had brought hordes of curious tourists, onlookers and urchins rushing to the beach.

Some people tried to reason with those gathered but the urchins drowned them out saying “this rogue fish has eaten up so many children”. The urchins vowed to “get even with it”.

An enclosure of gunny bags and bamboo sticks was created around the whale shark. To make the creature look horrifying, the urchins decided to place a battery-operated bulb in its mouth to emit a red glow.

“We launched an investigation into the incident and arrested one person,” said Anandamoy Bandopadhyay of Digha Development Authority . However, the Digha police said the death of “one of those things was a normal incident”.

Sharks are not the only casualty at Digha. On Thursday, at New Digha beach, a 100-kilo Olive Ridley turtle, another endangered species, was virtually trampled to death by some over enthusiastic tourists, officials said.

The turtle had come very close to the shore to lay eggs. The creature caught the attention of the tourists when it waved its flippers. Crying in excitement, tourists then started jumping up and down on its back.

   

 
 
PAY CLINICS FOR FASTER SERVICES 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Jan. 1: 
Pay clinics were simultaneously opened today at all teaching, district and sub-divisional hospitals throughout the state in another step towards health reforms.

The clinics will function between 4 pm and 7 pm every day, except Saturday and Sunday. Specialist doctors from most disciplines will see up to 25 patients each during these three hours, senior health officials said.

“The charges that have been fixed are Rs 100 per patient at teaching hospitals and Rs 50 per patient at district and sub-divisional hospitals,” said joint director of health services (administration) B.R. Manna. “These fees will have to be paid beforehand.”

Health department officials said that diagnostic procedures would be faster at the clinics. “Separate times and dates have been allotted to the pathology and radiology departments of the hospitals for patients coming through the pay clinics and requiring tests,” said an official of the department.

   

 
 
PANJA STRIKES WITH ‘REAL’ TRINAMUL 
 
 
FROM KAY BENEDICT
 
New Delhi, Jan. 1: 
In a new twist to the faction fight within the Trinamul Congress, suspended chairman Ajit Panja today floated a parallel Delhi unit of the party after taking top BJP leaders into confidence.

Exactly four years ago on January 1, 1998 Mamata Banerjee had inaugurated a Trinamul office here.

Ridiculing his suspension from the party, Panja said his was the real Trinamul and he would soon be meeting the Election Commission to claim the party symbol and furnish evidence to show that his suspension was “illegal” and “mala fide”. He also showed video clippings of his election as chairman to reporters and a few hundred supporters who had gathered at his residence for the launch of the unit.

Panja slammed Trinamul chief Mamata’s election to the party’s top organisational post as “illegal” and pointed out that he was the democratically elected chairman.

Sources said Panja met BJP president K. Jana Krishnamurthy before the launch of the party unit and discussed Trinamul politics and the situation in West Bengal. Yesterday, he had a 20-minute meeting with home minister L.K. Advani.

Sources said that while Mamata is trying hard to remain in the good books of Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and defence minister George Fernandes, Panja is wooing the opposite camp led by Advani.

Panja’s counter-offensive against Mamata came barely 48 hours after he was suspended by Trinamul. Party chief whip Sudip Bandyopadhyay, in a press release dated December 29, 2001, announced the decision to keep Panja “under suspension pending investigation”. The decision was “unanimously” taken by the party’s working committee at a meeting attended by all members except Panja, the release said.

The former Union minister said he had not received a single communication, document or letter from the Trinamul chief regarding his “suspension”. He said the only document was the press note issued by Bandyopadhyay.

Though the launch was marked by fanfare, not a single MLA or MP was present. Asked how many legislators or MPs backed him, Panja said “directly and openly” none. “But otherwise, except Mamata and Sudip, all are with me. They have some compulsions now.”

Panja also opened party units in Rajasthan and Indonesia, but did not offer any credible explanation for the need for a branch in Jakarta.

Panja, who like Mamata has been waiting a long time to be reinducted into the National Democratic Alliance government, said the party firmly believed it was the right step to support the BJP-led coalition government.

The rebel leader ruled out a compromise with Mamata. He said earlier she used to change her mind every seven days, then in three days and now she changes her mind in the morning and in the evening.

Panja said Mamata did not quit the NDA on March 15 last year and the quit resolution was not forwarded to the President. “She wanted to hoodwink the people, especially the minorities,” he said.

   

 
 
GUJARAT LOOKS TO HEAVENS, QUAKE VICTIMS TO DELHI 
 
 
FROM BASANT RAWAT
 
Ahmedabad, Jan. 1: 
While the state government has decided to perform puja and hold prayers all over Gujarat on the first anniversary of the January 26 earthquake, victims from Anjar town plan to hold a rally in Delhi to highlight their plight.

The rally will be held “with bloodstained banners and posters written in blood” to express Anjar’s “lack of faith in Gandhinagar”, the victims said.

“Our hearts no longer cry, our eyes have no more tears, our patience has been tested to the limit in waiting for justice. As time is passing, we are becoming more and more desperate,” wrote Shamsunder, leader of Anjar-based Group 2001, in a letter to Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee.

In his letter, Shamsunder wrote that the ground situation in Kutch had not changed in the last 11 months. Besides the removal of debris and distribution of substandard kits to farmers and artisans, nothing concrete had been done so far, he added.

In Anjar, a private agency, which does not know the local language, has been appointed for gathering public opinion on where people want to shift. But most quake victims cannot decide where they want to go or where they should go.

Plan after plan has been displayed for public approval, but nobody has any clue to the location of the proposed new township.

Shamsunder said the Centre would be forced to take note of the “tardy progress of rehabilitation” in Kutch if the quake victims take their agitation to Delhi.

In April last year, Group 2001 had undertaken a padayatra from Anjar to Gandhinagar to pressure the state government to announce rehabilitation packages for four towns of Kutch, which the people rejected.

“We expect to get something if the Centre starts monitoring Kutch,” Shamsunder said. “Even chief minister Narendra Modi is not aware of the ground situation in Kutch.”

Though Modi has visited the area twice since assuming office, he was not taken to villages where rehabilitation had not begun at all. Officials took Modi only to villages that had been rebuilt by Morari Bapu, the VHP and a Jain organisation.

“Why did the officials not take him to villages where reconstruction work has not yet started?” Shamsunder asked. Kutch district collector H.N. Chhibar, however, denied that the chief minister had been taken to those villages that had been rebuilt.

“Actually, we took him to two villages where there was extensive damage and the rehabilitation work is yet to start. The villagers told the chief minister that rebuilding houses was not their priority, agriculture was,” Chhibar said.

The collector claimed that 90 per cent of the repair work had been completed and as many as 241 schoolrooms had been rebuilt. But he would have something substantial to show on January 26, the first anniversary of the quake, he said.

The state government and NGOs involved in the rehabilitation plan to organise an exhibition, titled Resurgent Kutch, to showcase what has been done over the last 11 months in different parts of the district.

   

 
 
DELHI SCHOOL IN AFGHAN CHAPTER 
 
 
FROM RASHEED KIDWAI
 
New Delhi, Jan. 1: 
Delhi Public School is set to beat McDonald’s, Pepsi and Coke in the race to Kabul.

For war-ravaged Afghanistan, this is good news.India’s premier educational chain, with 84 schools at home and abroad, has decided to go to Afghanistan children.

In a break with tradition, the Delhi Public School Society is ready to open separate schools for girls and boys in the country. All its schools in India and abroad, including Nepal and West Asia, are co-educational.

But the dominant opinion is that a co-ed institution might be too “radical” for Afghan society which is just emerging from five years of Taliban rule when no interaction was allowed between men and women.

“We do not wish to impose our diktats. If Afghan sensibilities favour gender-exclusive schools, we are willing to do that,” a DPS Society member said.

Society president and Congress leader Salman Khurshid will soon fly to Kabul for a recce.

Khurshid said he had written to the external affairs ministry to route his request for permission from the Hamid Karzai regime for opening DPS branches in Afghanistan.

“It is our idea of chipping in for rebuilding Afghanistan. We feel youngsters in Afghanistan desperately need quality education to catch up with the rest of the world,” Khurshid said.

Education alone would prevent the rise of fundamentalism.

The decision to open a DPS chapter in Afghanistan was taken unanimously by the school board that includes economist Y.K. Alagh, dancer Shovana Narayan, Comptroller and Auditor-General V.K. Shunglu, former West Bengal Governor A.R. Kidwai, painter Manjit Bawa, and publisher Narender Kumar of Roli Books.

The literacy rate in Afghanistan is abysmally low. Twenty years of war have destroyed whatever infrastructure there was in the country. During the Taliban rule, female education was abandoned altogether.

At present, female literacy is as low as four percent.

DPS has overseas branches in Dubai, Sharjah, Jakarta, Jeddah, Doha, Kathmandu, Kuala Lumpur, Kuwait and Qatar. During the recent Maoist violence in Nepal, DPS buses were burnt in Kathmandu when an anti-India mob mistook it for a Government of India outfit.

   
 

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