Bengali syllabus set for overhaul
CPM big guns on rescue drive
Custody leeway for criminals
Cautious Centre treads gingerly on talks
Opposition marches to govt tune
BJP declares list date
TN scraps Pongal bonus
CBI to probe fertiliser scam
Bangalore budget in citizens’ hands
Kashmir leaders see hope for talks

 
 
BENGALI SYLLABUS SET FOR OVERHAUL 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Malda, Jan. 13: 
The state government’s efforts to weed out private coaching will not be successful, at least not until members of the CPM-backed All-Bengal Teachers’ Association give up teaching students privately on the sly.

That is what West Bengal Board of Secondary Education president Haraprasad Samaddar, the man in charge of taking care of school education till class X, feels.

“Given the current socio-economic model, I don’t feel that private coaching by teachers of schools can be checked altogether,” Samaddar said here today.

“What is more unfortunate is that ABTA members, despite the government’s repeated warnings, are showing no signs of giving up the practice,” he regretted.

The continuing intransigence of the ABTA members was becoming a major hurdle in the way of the state government’s efforts to bring back tutorials to schools and weed out the practice that made the student-teacher relationship akin to a consumer-seller one, he said.

Lining up major changes in the Bengali syllabus, the board president said only reading Tagore, Nazrul and Saratchandra would not do any more.

“Students should also have a fair idea of Sunil Gangopadhyay, Shakti Chattopadhyay and Shirshendu Mukhopadhyay,” he added.

The board has decided to overhaul the Bengali syllabus this year, which will lead to major changes from the academic year starting 2003. “Students should know what is happening in Bengali literature now besides knowing the classics,” Samaddar said.

The board is also incorporating major changes in rules determining the procurement of books for students to weed out corruption.

Rules in the present system — where the government supplies books only for students of classes IX and X — would be changed to enable the government to retain some sort of control in the procurement of books from class V itself, Samaddar said.

The changes will start from 2003; initially, the government will restrict itself to supplying texts for Bengali and biology. “The government will try to take charge of supplying all texts from class V upwards from the academic year 2004 onwards,” he added.

“We keep receiving complaints that schools change texts according to whims,” Samaddar added, explaining that money was often said to be the deciding factor.

   

 
 
CPM BIG GUNS ON RESCUE DRIVE 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Jan. 13: 
The CPM has taken serious note of growing factionalism in the party’s Calcutta district committee, where 55 of the 173 local units were reconstituted through elections in violation of the state leadership’s directive.

Last week, CPM state secretary and politburo member Anil Biswas had called upon the district committee members to reconstitute the local bodies through consensus.

Sources said besides the 55 local units, one zonal committee of the Calcutta district committee was reorganised through elections.

A concerned state party leadership has decided to deploy all the four senior politburo members from West Bengal — Jyoti Basu, Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, Anil Biswas and Biman Bose — to supervise proceedings at the three-day district conference beginning on Friday.

While Basu will inaugurate the district conference, the others will be present on all days of the conference so that the district leaders reorganise the local units through consensus.

In 1998, too, the Calcutta district committee was reconstituted through elections. However, this time the party leadership is determined to reorganise the district unit through consensus because the latter will be hosting the 20th state party conference from February 22. The leadership is, therefore, not keen that the hosts should be a divided force.

Of the 20 zonal committees, the Cossipore unit was reorganised through election. Party insiders feel that factionalism is more deep-rooted in lower party units like local committees than in higher bodies like zonal committees.

However, the state leadership is trying to convince the functionaries of the Calcutta district committee to avoid repeating the infighting during the 1998 polls.

   

 
 
CUSTODY LEEWAY FOR CRIMINALS 
 
 
BY PRONAB MONDAL
 
Calcutta, Jan. 13: 
Police are wondering what to do to keep criminals from slipping out of custody as one of their prime weapons — the Narcotic Drug Psychotropic Substances Act — has been amended to provide for bail.

Provisions under the Act, which were earlier non-bailable, now provides for bail if the accused possesses a small quantity of narcotics. According to the amendment, a small quantity is 5 gm or less for heroin and 1 kg or less for ganja.

The extent of police helplessness was seen on Friday when 35 undertrials, booked under the narcotics Act and lodged at Dum Dum Central Jail, were given bail by the Barasat special court.

The police have expressed concern that some hardened criminals, arrested under the Act for interrogation, would come out on bail by taking advantage of the new amendment.

“Hundreds of criminals, who never thought of their release even a few days ago, are now preparing themselves to come out on bail. We are sure that within the next seven days, most of accused under the Act will be released on bail,” said an officer.

The release of 35 undertrials by special judge K.K. Bakshi is said to be a record in terms of the highest number of people released on a single day. “In the past two decades the court has never seen such a large number of bail orders on a single day,” said advocate Nimai Ray.

Before the amendment, an accused found with 5 gm or less heroin had to prove before the court that the substance was for his consumption. This often helped the accused to be treated leniently by the court.

The punishment was also often relaxed if the accused was found to be a drug addict. Now the amended Act takes for granted that a small quantity of drug found on an accused is for the person’s own consumption.

Earlier, when the police used to make an arrest for a serious crime, they generally added the non-bailable provisions of the narcotics Act in the list of charges to keep the accused person in their custody for an indefinite period.

   

 
 
CAUTIOUS CENTRE TREADS GINGERLY ON TALKS 
 
 
FROM OUR BUREAU
 
New Delhi, Jan. 13: 
The statement issued by external affairs minister Jaswant Singh in response to President Pervez Musharraf’s address:

“The government of India has noted that the major portion of the address of the President of Pakistan yesterday (Saturday) relates to reforms to modernise Pakistan. We wish the people of Pakistan well in this endeavour. To the extent that these reforms have a direct nexus to external developments, we welcome them.

“We welcome the now declared commitment of the government of Pakistan not to support or permit any more the use of its territory for terrorism anywhere in the world, including in the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir. The commitment must extend to the use of all territories under Pakistan’s control today. We would assess the effectiveness of the commitment only by the concrete action taken. Consequently, we expect Pakistan to cooperate with India in stopping all infiltration across the international border and the Line of Control (in Kashmir).

“The government notes the decision of the government of Pakistan to ban Lashkar-e-Toiba and Jaish-e-Mohammad, the two terrorist organisations involved in the December 13 attack on the Indian Parliament. We look forward to an effective and full implementation of this measure, so that its members do not continue activities under other names.

“There would be a similar need to address other terrorist organisations targeting India, as also the parent organisations that spawn them.

“Continuing lack of action against fugitives from law about whom detailed information has been provided to Pakistan on several occasions is disappointing. It remains our expectation that the government of Pakistan will even now act on this.

“The government of India rejects entirely and categorically the comments of the President of Pakistan about the situation in the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir.

“The government of India remains committed to the bilateral dialogue process with Pakistan in accordance with the letter and spirit of the Shimla agreement and the Lahore declaration.

“Should the government of Pakistan operationalise its intention and move purposely towards eradicating cross-border terrorism, the government of India will respond fully, and would be prepared to resume the composite dialogue process.

“We reiterate our conviction that all issues between India and Pakistan can only be addressed bilaterally. There is no scope for any third-party involvement.

   

 
 
OPPOSITION MARCHES TO GOVT TUNE 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Jan. 13: 
Opposition parties in India echoed the government by reacting with cautious optimism to President Pervez Musharraf’s speech.

The Opposition says Musharraf’s offer for a dialogue should not be rejected outright but has urged the Vajpayee regime to resume talks on the basis of “credible action on the ground”. Opposition parties also resented Musharraf’s refusal to hand over the 20 terrorists wanted by India, saying if Musharraf takes a lead in handing over these militants it would amount to a confidence-building measure.

At a luncheon meeting with Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Opposition leaders, who were given a thorough briefing on the government’s assessment of Musharraf’s speech, endorsed the Centre’s wait-and-watch policy.

Leader of Opposition Sonia Gandhi acknowledged that the Pakistan President’s speech had some “positive elements”. Sonia, however, asserted that there was no scope for third-party intervention in the Indo-Pak conflict. Manmohan Singh added that both the countries should engage themselves in dialogue.

Sonia lauded Musharraf for promising firm action against terrorists and putting an end to cross-border terrorism but added that much will depend on how the Pakistani leader translates his intention into action. “The real taste of the pudding lies in the eating,” Singh explained.

The Congress chief urged the government to be cautious as there has been no change in Pakistan’s position vis-a-vis Kashmir so far. She said the Congress was not in favour of any third-party intervention as the Simla agreement provided enough framework for resolving all outstanding disputes between the two countries.

Other Opposition leaders who attended the meeting, which lasted for more than an hour and a half, are CPM secretary general Harkishen Singh Surjeet, CPI leader D. Raja, Trinamul Member of Parliament Sudip Bandhopadhyay, Bahujan Samaj Party chief Mayawati and RJD leader Raghuvansh Prasad Singh.

Surjeet described Musharraf’s speech as “positive”, pointing out that the Pakistani President had accepted many of the demands that India had made. “Many things that we have been demanding, he has accepted,” Surjeet said. The Marxist leader asserted that his party did not agree with Musharraf’s call for any third-party intervention in resolving bilateral issues.

The CPM leader favoured the resumption of Indo-Pak dialogue. “I hope the talks would resume. The government of India had never said no to such talks,” Surjeet said. CPI leader D. Raja praised Musharraf for taking on religious fundamentalists. “As far as religious extremism and terrorism are concerned, Musharraf’s statements are quite positive,” he said. On Kashmir, Raja said his party was of the firm view that India and Pakistan should engage themselves in a meaningful dialogue. Like Sonia and Surjeet, he too ruled out any third party mediation.

   

 
 
BJP DECLARES LIST DATE 
 
 
FROM ANAND SOONDAS
 
Lucknow, Jan. 13: 
The BJP has finally announced that the much-awaited candidate’s list for the Assembly elections in February will be out by January 16.

The inordinate delay had led to speculations that the party’s talks with its allies on seat sharing had failed and was fast approaching a dead end.

All other major parties, barring the BJP, have released their list of candidates. The Samajwadi Party, which has released a first list of 295 candidates, has said the remaining 108 candidates will be announced after talks with its ally, the Peoples Front.

Returning from Delhi after talks with senior party leaders, BJP chief minister Rajnath Singh and state unit president Kalraj Mishra announced that the election committee meeting in Delhi today had discussed candidates from each of the 403 constituencies “in a seat-to-seat manner” and that the list, to be announced later, was “almost finalised”. “We are just waiting for a clearance from the central election committee,” Mishra said. Delay was not because of differences with its allies, he added.

On any rift with Ajit Singh’s Lok Dal, Mishra said “talks with our allies are progressing in a smooth and cordial manner and within a couple of days everything will be sorted out”.

   

 
 
TN SCRAPS PONGAL BONUS 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Chennai, Jan. 13: 
It began as a bold attempt to revamp the Public Distribution System (PDS) in Tamil Nadu, as part of the government’s effort to slash its massive food subsidy bill. Instead, it led to depriving poor handloom weavers of their Pongal bonus.

The state government had set apart a sum of Rs 129 crore in the state Budget at the beginning of the current fiscal for the free dhoti and sari scheme.

The scheme has a direct impact on wages in the handloom sector, as nearly two crore beneficiaries get these home-woven clothes, made by handloom cooperatives.

However, the queues of poor and not-so-poor men and women in front of taluk offices waiting to collect a free dhoti and sari per family, a familiar sight on the eve of Pongal, the harvest festival in Tamil Nadu, were conspicuous by their absence.

What prompted the government to stop the distribution of free dhotis and saris to the poor this year was the bungling in its move to restructure the PDS.

Running up a food subsidy bill of Rs 1540 crore this year, the ADMK regime recently decided to introduce differential pricing for rice and sugar under the PDS for below poverty line (BPL) and above poverty line (APL) families. The price of rice for APL families was hiked to Rs 9 per kg.

This move was expected to reduce the food subsidy bill by about Rs 600 crore.

But it provoked public outrage in early December with irate groups attacking some ration shops in some parts of the state. The government had to defer the PDS restructuring until the BPL and APL families were clearly identified.

A door-to-door enumeration was ordered by the government from early January to figure out the actual number of BPL families. The idea was to have a meaningful and manageable PDS system, as even Left-leaning Kerala spent only Rs 65 crore for PDS every year.

Barely a week after it had started, the government stopped the door-to-door enumeration. The official reason given was that the checklist carried by the enumerators sought too many details about the families. This irked consumer groups, economists and social scientists.

The government said the enumeration had been discontinued till fresh norms were evolved for identifying the BPL families with the help of those concerned, including peoples’ representatives and economic experts.

Without the benefit of a ready list of the BPL families, the government decided to scrap one major freebie this year: the free dhoti and sari scheme just before Pongal.

Opposition parties criticised the move saying, if the government had the welfare of the poor in mind, it could still go ahead the free dhoti and sari scheme on the basis of last year’s count of BPL families, when about 180 lakh families were benefited.

Was the state government “bending backwards to please the World Bank and the IMF”, they now ask.

   

 
 
CBI TO PROBE FERTILISER SCAM 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Patna, Jan. 13: 
Chief minister Rabri Devi today recommended a CBI probe into the Rs 1000-crore fertiliser scam, taking her critics by surprise.

The scam is supposed to be bigger than the fodder scam of 1996, in which her husband, Laloo Yadav, has been implicated. Laloo is currently lodged in Beur jail in connection with the same.

The chief minister ordered the CBI probe on the basis of the report of the Bihar Legislative Council’s committee on financial management and internal resources, which had stated that the state directorate for agriculture had paid subsidy worth Rs 1000 crore to various fertiliser producing companies between 1994 and 1998, though the fertiliser never reached the farmers.

The director of the state agriculture department allegedly never received reports from its offices in the districts and blocks, as is required under law, exactly what the farmers needed before ordering the payment of subsidy to the fertiliser companies.

Ironically, during 1994 and 1998, Bihar farmers received no subsidised fertiliser, the report added.

The probe committee in 1999 had travelled to various districts of undivided Bihar such as Ranchi and Aurangabad to confirm this. The committee report, submitted to council chairman Jabir Hussain on September 28, had urged the state government to recommend to the home ministry for a CBI probe.

The state excise minister and RJD national spokesman Shivanand Tiwari told The Telegraph that the chief minister signed her letter to the Union home ministry this morning and set the ball rolling for a CBI probe, as demanded by the leaders of the Opposition.

The state Opposition leaders said that the ruling RJD, already in the dock over the fodder scam, has tried to take the wind out of their sails by ordering the CBI probe.

   

 
 
BANGALORE BUDGET IN CITIZENS’ HANDS 
 
 
FROM HABIB BEARY
 
Bangalore, Jan. 13: 
Karnataka chief minister S.M. Krishna has pulled off another first for India’s tech capital.

On the lines of a successful Brazilian mission, Krishna has devised a scheme in which the residents will decide the city corporation’s annual budget.

The programme, Janagraha, meaning team spirit, is a public-private initiative aimed at making governance transparent and more effective. People in the 100 wards of this burgeoning metropolis will identify programmes to be implemented by civic authorities in their localities.

Initially, the move did cause some concern among newly elected representatives of the Bangalore Corporation but their apprehensions have been allayed. “More and more corporators have come out in support of Janagraha,” says corporation commissioner Ashok M. Dalwai. “The budget is an instrument of change. The involvement of citizens will make the budget reform-oriented,” he adds.

Krishna and his men at the helm of the project have been trying to convince other elected representatives that there was no threat to their power.

The collaborative effort has the support of the young mayor, K. Chandrashekhar. “It is the responsibility of each Bangalorean to ensure that the tax he pays is being utilised properly by the corporation. Of the Rs 154 crore property tax collected yearly, the corporation spends Rs 76 crore on keeping the city clean,” he says.

“If people in a particular ward feel roads are a priority, they could allocate more funds for good roads,” adds Chandrashekhar. “We will work in a collaborative manner with the people’s representatives and the government,” says Ramesh Ramanathan, the programme’s architect and a finance expert. A former managing director of Citibank, North America, Ramanathan has taken up the cause of shoring up Bangalore’s image.

The plan is to get resident’s associations, the local corporator and civic authorities to identify the issues that need to be addressed in the next three months and have them implemented. Citizens will have a say in recommending ways to increase revenues and streamline expenditure.

A similar programme of participative governments taken up in Porto Alegro, Brazil, in 1989 transformed it to one of the best towns in the country. Porto Alegro has fared better than the whole of Brazil by notching up a higher average in the indices showing the quality of life of its citizens.

In literacy, Brazil’s national average is 87 per cent but Porto Alegro has an average of 97. Infant mortality is down to 0.5 per cent against Brazil’s 37.5. Around 50,000 of its 1.5 million people are involved in the programme.

The experiment is now being followed by several other cities and towns in Brazil.

“We will make it work here,” assert civic authorities here. The project has emerged from the Bangalore Agenda Task Force, a public-private initiative set up by the government to improve the quality of life in the city.

The task force, in operation for two years, is headed by the chief operating officer of Infosys Technologies, Nandan Nilekani and includes representatives of public utility services like the water board, the power corporation, traffic police, the Bangalore Development Authority and the telephone department.

   

 
 
KASHMIR LEADERS SEE HOPE FOR TALKS 
 
 
FROM MUKHTAR AHMAD
 
Srinagar, Jan. 13: 
A Kashmiri separatist leader drew a parallel between President Pervez Musharraf’s speech and the heavy rains that ended a long dry spell, hoping that talks would now begin between the two countries.

“It (the speech) will hopefully be followed by positive, substantive dialogue involving India, Pakistan and the people of Jammu and Kashmir to find an honorable and durable solution to the Kashmir problem,” Abdul Gani Bhat, the chairman of the All Parties Hurriyat Conference, said.

In tandem with the crackdown that continued across the border in Pakistan, police this evening raided several places and arrested leaders of the Hurriyat in Srinagar.

Bhat said the police picked up Bashir Ahmad Bhat, vice-president of the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF), Ghulam Nabi Sumji of the Muslim Conference, Mukhtar Waza of the People’s League and Sheikh Abdul Rashid, the press secretary of the Hurriyat.

Musharraf yesterday announced a jihad against jihadis in Pakistan but at the same time renewed Pakistan’s moral commitment to the “Kashmir cause”.

“The Pakistan President has iterated that moral, diplomatic and political support to Kashmiris will continue,” the former chairman of the Hurriyat, Mirwaiz Omar Farooq, said. “The ban on Lashkar-e-Toiba and Jaish-e-Mohammad will not in any way affect our struggle in Kashmir for the right to self-determination,” he added.

Observers say “the pressure will now be on India, especially if a political solution becomes pertinent in light of Musharraf’s peace offer to Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee”.

   
 

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