Smoking protest lands couple on platform
Cellphones banned in Assembly
Farm labour on decline
Jawans kill infiltrators
Atal hits home with unity sermon
Govt lines up baby-boom talks
Special lessons in patriotism
And now, gold from sea water
Secret’s out: magic marketing
One for the road? Try coffee

Howrah, Feb. 15: 
Protests against smoking and the use of filthy language backfired this morning with country-liquor carriers forcing the protesting couple to alight mid-journey from a local train with their ailing three-year-old son.

Anupam and Manju Dasgupta were virtually pushed out of the EMU to Howrah, which they had boarded at Burdwan at 9 am, for asking four liquor carriers not to smoke inside the compartment. Desperate pleas that they would miss an appointment at the Advanced Medical Research Institute for their son, Abhirup — who suffers from broncho-constriction — failed to move the hooligans.

With no support from fellow passengers and no Government Railway Police in sight, the Dasguptas were left stranded at Bally station. Boarding the next train, the couple rushed to the AMRI, but the doctor had left the institute.

Anupam Dasgupta, who was yet to recover from the shock, said he had not expected to receive such “rough treatment” for protesting against smoking inside railway compartment. “We simply pleaded to country-liquor carriers not to smoke inside the compartment as this would affect the health of my ailing son. But this infuriated them so much that they slapped and abused my wife and finally forced us to get off at Bally station,” he said.

“The hooligans pushed me and used filthy language when I urged them to let us travel up to Howrah so that we reach AMRI on time for my son’s check-up,” said a dazed Manju Dasgupta, who was consoling her weeping son. “All pleas that we will miss the appointment with doctors in Calcutta fell on deaf ears,” her husband added.

Eyewitnesses said the hooligans held Dasgupta by the collar and slapped him repeatedly.

The railways have taken strong exception to the incident and ordered a probe. “We are stunned. I have asked the railway police, Howrah, to register a case,” said S.R. Das, special inspector-general of police, railways. He said the couple was right to protest against smoking in the compartment.

Officials from the Belur GRP admitted that enforcing the Supreme Court’s ban on smoking was difficult because of inadequate manpower.


Calcutta, Feb. 15: 
The budget session of the Assembly begins on February 27 amid tight security arrangements in the wake of the terror strikes on Parliament and the American Center.

Carrying mobile phones and transistors inside the House has been banned. However, legislators and journalists can carry their mobile phones in the lobby.

Also, visitors wishing to meet any legislator or Assembly employee will not be allowed to enter the main Assembly building. They will have to inform the MLA or the person concerned through the security people.

Speaker Hasim Abdul Halim chaired an all-party meeting during the day and informed legislators about the security beef-up. He urged members to cooperate.

“When the Assembly building was built, such intense security arrangements were obviously not in the minds of the planners. But today we find that it is one of the softest targets with so many entry and exit points,” said Halim.

Soon, X-ray machines will be installed along with metal detector gates at the main entrances to the Assembly.


Calcutta, Feb. 15: 
The growing dearth of farmland and the corresponding rise in population have resulted in the decline in the percentage of agricultural workers in Bengal, a phenomenon not witnessed during the past 50 years.

This was revealed in the distribution of workers and non-workers in the state, released in Calcutta today by Vikram Sen, director of census operations in the state.

“This is the first time since 1951 that the percentage of agricultural workers has gone below 50 per cent of the total working population,” Sen said. The census defines agricultural workers as both cultivators and farm labour.

Among the 18 districts, the number of people engaged in cultivation has declined in 14 and increased in only four. The areas where there has been an increase in cultivators include Cooch Behar, North and South Dinajpur and Bankura.

The number of agricultural labourers has increased between 1991 and 2001 in absolute terms but their percentage to the total working population has fallen, the census added.

This fall is reflected in the significant rise in people working in the household industry between 1991 and 2001. The number of persons working in the household sector has risen from 4.24 per cent in 1991 to 7.3 per cent in 2001. More women are engaged as domestic helps in the household sector. This is the only field where females have outnumbered their male counterparts.

The census collectors first began recording household workers in 1961. Since then the number has steadily increased. The 7.3 per cent figure for this sector in 2001 is the highest in the past 40 years.

Women in Bengal have also attained an all-time high as far as their participation in work is concerned. The total number of working women as a percentage of the total female population in 2001 is the highest for the state as well as its rural areas, the census said.

But Bengal has also seen a rise in the number of what the census terms as “non-workers”. This number of unemployed has risen by over 4.5 million since 1991. Between this decade the number of males without work has increased by over 1.7 million and the corresponding figure for women is over 2.8 million.


Karimpur (Nadia), Feb. 15: 
BSF jawans last night shot dead six Bangladeshi infiltrators at Paksa in Nadia within 24 hours of gunning down two smugglers at Dayarampur under Jalangi police station in Murshidabad district.

The jawans recovered four bodies, but the miscreants managed to escape with two corpses. Two jawans were injured in the incident.

Senior BSF officials have rushed to the spot. Security along the border has been beefed up.

According to officials, around 10 pm, BSF jawans found some people crossing the border from Bangladesh by cutting through the barbed-wire fence. The jawans gave chase but the miscreants reportedly opened fire. The jawans retaliated. The shootout continued for 15 minutes.

Instructed by the home department, the Murshidabad district police have organised a co-ordination meeting with BSF officials next week to redress people’s grievances and build a joint vigilance team to check border crimes.

“We shall discuss in the meeting some key issues related to border crime, responsibilities of the police and BSF and chalk out a joint action plan to strengthen security along the border,” district superintendent of police Rajesh Kumar said.

Concerned over the growing tension in border areas, the home department has asked the district police to coordinate better with BSF officials in checking crimes like infiltration and smuggling.

The BSF, which is responsible for maintaining vigil along the Indo-Bangla border, has often come under fire from political leaders and people in the border areas for their “acts of omission and commission”.

The state administration feels there is need for greater coordination between the BSF and district police to contain border crimes as the latter cannot interfere with the former’s activities.

The decision to build a machinery for better coordination came in the wake of a number of allegations against the BSF.

“BSF firing and raids in the border areas often lead to law and order problems. At least 10 such incidents were reported in the past fortnight. After these incidents, the BSF jawans went back to their camps but the district police had to face the people’s wrath. However, if the police and BSF work together, the situation may improve appreciably,” a senior district police officer said.


Lucknow, Feb. 15: 
Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee was on home ground today, campaigning in Lucknow, the constituency he represents in Parliament.

Realising that every vote and Assembly segment count in this crucial heartland, especially in Lucknow, Vajpayee even addressed a road-corner meeting requesting those who had gathered at a small mohalla of Vikasnagar to vote for BJP candidate Gomti Yadav.

Of the eight Assembly seats here, five had voted for the BJP last time.

So it was a Prime Minister who exhorted people to come out and vote and, for once, Pakistan looked like it would have to take the back seat.

“This election will decide which direction the nation will take,” Vajpayee said. “Please don’t underestimate the importance of these polls. This is a state that sends 80 MPs to Parliament. I am one of them, so shed your laziness and vote.”

He asked people to look beyond caste and religion. “Jaati shaadi byahah ke liye theek hai, chunav ke liye nahi (Caste considerations are okay for marriages, not for elections),” he said.

The Prime Minister appealed to the people not to let their votes get divided.

“We don’t want a khichdi government, khichdi is for sick people, healthy people should go for kheer instead,” he said. “Harana jeetane aap ka kaam hai. Lekin harao to acchhi tarah se, aur jeetao to acchhi tarah se (Whether you make candidates win or lose, do it resoundingly).”

Vajpayee dismissed exit poll reports, saying nothing can be certain till the final results come in.

But after his impassioned appeal, the Prime Minister was back to the BJP’s pet subject — internal security and Pakistan.

The country is facing a great “sankat” (danger), he said. The threat was from many quarters. “For a nation to develop it has to be internally strong, crimes are increasing, criminals are increasing,” Vajpayee added. “You saw what happened in Calcutta. Kidnappings, it seems, has become big business. You can put an end to all this by choosing the right set of leaders.”

He expressed unhappiness at Pakistan’s inaction on the list of 20 criminals and terrorists Delhi had submitted to Islamabad.

“They won’t return to us, these terrorists who have committed terrible crimes in India. They keep hiding members of the Taliban, Pakistan is doing nothing about it,” Vajpayee said.

The Prime Minister also sent a positive signal to the substantial minority population in the city by accusing Pakistan of trying to turn terrorism in Jammu and Kashmir into a Hindu-Muslim fight.

“It’s not like that. Pakistan is a theocratic state, not India. We have more Muslims here than in Pakistan and all of them are the nation’s children. Every one here has equal freedom and liberty,” he said.

“Pakistan,” he added, “is playing a very dirty game.”

Vajpayee addressed two other meetings in Lucknow. BJP leaders said he might squeeze in a fourth at the end of the day “now that he is here”.


New Delhi, Feb. 15: 
The Centre plans to hold talks on population “stabilisation” with Muslim leaders after data gathered from Islamic countries proved that contrary to popular belief, Islam lays stress on family and its welfare.

But not everyone is confident of smooth sailing. The chairman of the National Minorities Commission, Justice (Retd) Mohammed Shamim, reportedly cautioned the National Population Commission (NCP) against entering into a direct dialogue with the clergy.

Sources said the minority panel feels the issue would get “politicised” and fears the country’s largest minority community might see it as an intrusion in its personal matters.

Sources in the population commission said the Union health ministry also has reservations about the move because of its experience during the Emergency when Bansi Lal’s drive to meet population targets, particularly among Muslims, contributed to the downfall of the Indira Gandhi regime.

“We have been told not to rush through or repeat mistakes of the past. Under all circumstances, we would keep religious sensibilities in mind,” said a senior official with the commission.

But the commission is going ahead with its move of approaching prominent Islamic scholars, theological schools and opinion makers. It has sought their views on linking population stabilisation with health, education, income and development.

The All-India Muslim Personal Law Board, the Milli Council, Deoband, Nadwa and other religious schools and NGOs working with Muslims have been shortlisted. “We will first ascertain their views and then proceed,” commission officials said.

The officials said they have been encouraged by their experiences in Bangladesh and Indonesia where interaction with Muslim religious leaders paid dividends in integrated health and family planning services.

For instance, in Indonesia – which has the world’s highest Muslim population -- the National Family Planning Co-ordination Board succeeded in its drive in the heavily populated provinces of Java and Bali. Support came from the clergy with the Indonesian Ulemas Assembly helping the board in its mission.

The board ran orientation courses for religious organisations and local level ulemas (clergy) so that they understood and accepted family planning. It arranged motivational activities for over 2,700 institutions of learning and brought family planning studies to religious schools.


Azamgarh, Feb. 15: 
The BJP’s hardsell on nationalism — which equates anti-BJPism with anti-nationalism—may not have moved the Hindus of Uttar Pradesh but it has left the Muslims completely unsettled.

An immediate outcome is that madarsas across the state have started a special class on “patriotism” to prove the point that Muslims belong to India as much as any other religious community and their loyalty should not be suspect.

Shah Alam, the nazeem (manager) of the Dinya Ishatul-Ulum Madarsa in Nizamabad, about 30 km from Azamgarh in east Uttar Pradesh, said the special session on patriotism was incorporated in the general curriculum after the state government banned the Students’ Islamic Movement of India and enforced the Prevention of Terrorism Ordinance. Though this madarsa escaped the police net, several others were raided and students arrested.

The patriotism lessons tell students they should owe allegiance only to the country which “feeds and clothes” them. The lessons warn students against having extra-territorial loyalty and asks them not to defy the law of the land by getting into fights with other religious groups. Alam, however, stressed that the special session was not introduced under pressure from any organisation or religious group. “We ourselves felt it was necessary in the present climate,” he maintained.

“We are doing our work. There is no politics in this. We respect India’s law and ask our teachers and students to do likewise,” said the madarsa’s principal, Zianuddin.

Despite what they see as the constant need to “prove” their loyalty to India and their willingness to do so, Muslims are hurt at the lack of reciprocity from Hindus, especially those with the BJP.

Anwarul Haque Ansari, a Samajwadi Party activist in Varanasi, resented Uttar Pradesh chief minister Rajnath Singh’s constant iteration that a victory for the BJP in the Assembly elections would be a defeat for Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf and vice versa.

“What is he trying to say, that we are all loyal to Pakistan? Most of us have no links with the country and the few who have relations there know just how badly the Mohajirs are treated. They can’t even bury their dead in peace. At least, we have no such problem in India,” he said.

Riazuddin Ansari, who heads a weavers’ cooperative in Varanasi, said: “The government need not demand these tests of loyalty because the Quran teaches us to be loyal to the country whose ganna (sugarcane) and chawal (rice) we eat.”


Chennai, Feb. 15: 
Take it with a pinch of salt if you’re a sceptic, but J.P. Agarwala is sure to make waves among gold-obsessed Indians.

The IIT Kharagpur alumnus, who later became a teacher at his alma mater, claims to have found a way of getting gold out of sea water. The technology has not been proved yet. Nor does Agarwala have a patent.

“My technology to separate gold from ocean water, if accepted and applied, will dramatically reduce the price of gold by half at a time when gold prices have firmed up amid world gold production hitting a stagnant level,” the Orissa-born scientist said.

Though excited, Agarwala, now settled in Chennai, is guarded about this “knowhow” developed over a period of time. He had set out on the research programme while he was professor of chemical engineering at the IIT.

“I have done the experiments with sea water from the Bay of Bengal, the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, and even from the Marina Beach here near my latest home, besides having taken water samples from the Subarnarekha river, which in Bengali means river of gold,” Agarwala said.

The 41-year-old gold medallist from IIT Kharagpur claimed that he has been working on the project for two years. Agarwala said he had presented the nucleus of his finding for the first time in 1999.

Prof. A.K. Biswas, head of the department of chemical engineering at the IIT, who has taught and worked with Agarwala, described the scientist as an “outstanding student”. Biswas said Agarwala had done the research with MTech students with help from the Geological Survey of India but added that he did not know how work on the project was progressing.

Armed with a masters degree and a PhD from the University of Colorado, Agarwala said that in 1998, he had been invited by the US government to explore the possibility of getting gold from the Colorado and California belt, which once spurred the “gold rush” in American history.

“We have sought the assistance of human resources development minister M.M. Joshi for putting up a pilot plant on the Marina sands,” he added.

But aware of the complex patent process, Agarwala is keeping the wraps on his project. “I am waiting for the Western reaction, in particular,” he says, hinting that developments which will unfold once news of his “invention” is made public, will be crucial to making his technology a success.


Mumbai, Feb. 15: 
Iska raaz hai marketing. Raaz is the latest catchword in Bollywood. Because the film, dismissed initially as a horror non-event that would disappear in a week, has turned out to be a stunner of a superhit.

The success is being blamed not on any old-world formula, but on the new mantra: right marketing.

“It’s the aggressive promotion,” says Taran Adarsh of Trade Guide. “With excellent music and a shift from the mama-chacha kind of family values and patriotic sentiment, the film is a ‘superhit’. But the real reason why Raaz is doing so well is because of the marketing.”

The television promos of Raaz, some of them long by usual standards, were designed with extra care.

They had the usual horror elements — supersonic screams, a gently disappearing female figure, fog engulfing the landscape and an assortment of other supernatural accessories. But extra care was taken to make Raaz look different from the desi horror flick of the Ramsays.

“It really worked. Especially the catchline that said ‘agar bhagwan mein vishwas rakhte hain to shaitan me bhi vishwas karna chahiye. (If you believe in God, you should also believe in Satan),” said Adarsh.

“We worked hard to create the promos, each having suspense shots and an unexpected ending. We had to reach out to the masses,” said Aarti Poddar, general manager of marketing at Tips, the entertainment company which produced the movie with Mahesh Bhatt.

Raaz enters the third week today and is still at the No. 1 slot. It has already recovered its production cost of Rs 4.5 crore, said trade analyst Komal Nahata. “It is projected to bring in about Rs 18 crore. Lagaan did a business of around Rs 22 crore.”

“It was the pre-release buzz. The promos prepared the audience,” Nahata said. “Good music also helped, but the cast, with Bipasha who is still a newcomer and former model Dino Morea, had negative star value.”

“Inspired” by the Hollywood film What Lies Beneath, starring Harrison Ford and Michelle Pfeiffer, Raaz has been panned universally by critics.

But it had corporate gurus in Bollywood crowing. Amit Khanna, member, Ficci Entertainment Committee, an active votary of corporatising the entertainment sector, said the success of Raaz had again proved the power of marketing. Marketing cannot be underestimated, he said.

“Most recent Bollywood big hits like Lagaan and Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham were marketed extensively,” Khanna said. “It is a growing trend.”


Bangalore, Feb. 15: 
One for the road? Sure, why not, say the traffic police.

At Opium, one of the city’s snazzy pubs, people are being egged on to have one last drink —coffee.

Some say it’s working. “This is good stuff. After a couple of drinks, a cup of coffee clears your head,” said Jayprakash, a regular pub-hopper. “I can’t believe this, but I seem to like it,” said Prem, a businessman.

The promotional campaign was started as a run-up to the three-day international coffee festival that began here today.

“We took the campaign to the pubs in the city so that people make a habit of at least having a cup of coffee after their drinks,” said Anil Bhandari, the festival convener.

“Pubs could offer coffee cocktails, which will neutralise some of the effects of alcohol and make people more alert,” he added.

Actually, just as the guzzlers in the country’s pub capital need coffee, the coffee industry needs the guzzlers. The figures in the coffee trade are not very encouraging.

The industry is targeting pubs because they are also the hangout of the hip and the young – people who might just take to coffee in a big way. “If England changed from a tea-drinking country to a coffee-drinking one, why cant we?” said Sharda Subramaniam, a senior official of the Coffee Board which is co-hosting the festival.

To add a dash of colour, vintage cars are moving around the metro spreading the message of coffee. The festival is expected to bring cheer as India is hoping to expand its market in Europe and the Americas.

Over 400 coffee-growers from across the country, mainly from Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Kerala, and as many as 70 international delegates from abroad are participating in the festival, being held for the first time in India on a global scale. Plans are to make it an annual affair.

“The idea is to put Indian coffee on a special platform and market it as a premium brand on par with the likes of Brazilian or Guatemalan coffee,” said Bhandari, who is also a leading grower from Coorg.

Indian coffee is used in Europe and the US as a base for blending with other premium coffees. But unlike Darjeeling tea, it does not have a unique identity of its own. “We want to bring back the romance of the good old Mysore coffee,” said Bhandari.

The festival also wants to increase coffee consumption in the country, where the brew has slipped on the popularity charts, making room for tea.

Only 20 per cent of the coffee produced in the country — 300,600 tonnes — are consumed in the country, with the rest being exported mainly to western countries.

Much before the festival was planned, a chain of Coffee Day shops in cities across the country was set up to attract the well-heeled and the trendy to coffee-drinking. There was also the upmarket Barista to lure the coffee-lover.

But with coffee now making it to pubs, it could well stir up a heady brew.    


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