State ‘poor third’ in infant mortality
Citu man held for fake permits
23 students charged with ransacking
Boost to workers on Jessop revival
Bhatia praises Bengal
NDA tries to settle Sayeed score
EU buries Gujarat hatchet
Arjun, Jaswant in mild battle
Caste killings in Laloo backyard
TV rehearsal for House debutant

Calcutta, May 2: 
Bengal has the third-lowest rate of infant mortality after Kerala and Maharashtra, according to a report compiled by the Union health ministry, but the rate is higher than the national average.

Kerala’s rate was the lowest at 14 per thousand births, compared to 48 for Maharashtra, where 1.2 million of the 25 million born every year do not live for more than a month, state health minister Suryakanta Mishra said today.

Bengal’s infant mortality rate was 51 for every thousand, he added, compared to the national average of 46 per thousand live births.

“We are a poor third and we should learn from Kerala’s experience,” the minister said. The state will activate more field workers at the panchayat level so that infant mortality can be reduced, said Mishra.

India’s share of 24 per cent of the global burden of neonatal deaths is the highest for any country, the report indicated.

A survey conducted earlier this year by the National Neonatal Forum had revealed that in one Calcutta maternity home run by the state health department, more than 50 per cent of newborns referred to the hospital died within the first 24 hours.

The health minister said strategies had already been adopted to improve survival of newborns in Bengal. Mishra said neonatal mortality accounted for 60 per cent of the infant mortality rate.

Neonatal care would be an integral part of primary health care, he added. “We have to send the message across that the care of newborns begins during pregnancy,” the minister said.

The state health department has stressed that it will not continue its programmes imparting training in the care of newborns. It is currently working on a project on “Essential Newborn Care, Training and Operationalisation”, in collaboration with the Neonatal Forum and the Unicef.

The department has decided to make changes in the medical curriculum to emphasise neonatal care and also to upgrade medical equipment.


Calcutta, May 2: 
A Citu activist from North 24-Parganas was arrested yesterday on charges of issuing a fake permit to a Barasat couple to operate a private bus.

The activist, Bhudeb Banerjee, was associated with many private bus unions and acted as a tout for permits from the district motor vehicles department, police sources said.

A couple had approached Banerjee about a month ago for a bus permit on route DN-18, plying between Hasnabad and Shyambazaar. When they received the permit, they found it was dated September 17, 2002.

The couple grew suspicious and contacted regional transport officer Somnath Chakraborty. The transport officer notified the sub-divisional officer and district magistrate H.K. Dwibedi, who ordered Banerjee’s arrest.

State transport authority chairman Lakshman Bhattacharya said Banerjee was a tout at the Barasat motor vehicles office. “There were many complaints against him and we asked the RTO to look into the matter. The RTO, after carrying out a probe, confirmed Banerjee’s involvement in the fake permit racket,” he said.

Bhattacharya, however, denied that Banerjee was an active Citu member. “He may have attended our rallies as a Citu supporter, but he is neither an office-bearer nor an active trade unionist,” said the state transport authority chairman.

Banerjee was produced in court and remanded in judicial custody. Police officials are also investigating whether any other official of the district motor vehicles department was involved in the racket.


Bankura, May 2: 
Police today chargesheeted 23 students of Bankura Engineering College with ransacking the college and assaulting its teachers.

District superintendent of police Basudeb Bag said the 23 students had been found guilty after thorough investigation.

On January 11, a group of students had agitated at the college for canteen and hostel facilities. The agitators staged a sit-in at the college the next day when negotiations with college authorities failed.

Some students ransacked the office and classrooms, damaging furniture and electrical fittings. They also destroyed documents. Teachers who resisted the students were assaulted. The students did not even spare the principal.

College authorities suspended classes for about a month and lodged an FIR with the local police station. The police arrested some students, who were granted bail.

“We have interrogated the students against whom an FIR was lodged and have also spoken to other students and teachers. The investigation revealed that the students damaged the library, furniture, books and assaulted teachers,” said Bag. “We have prepared a chargesheet against 23 students, which we shall submit to court,” he added.


Calcutta, May 2: 
Employees of Jessop have got the opportunity to give their views and suggestions on the revival of the unit after a tussle with the Centre.

The Board of Industrial and Financial Reconstruction directed the Centre to hold discussions with the workers’ organisations and other parties concerned before finalising the draft revival package.

“The suggestions and observations, or any alternative proposal, given by the employees organisations or any other concern must be submitted before the BIFR within six weeks. No decision can be made before that,” the board ordered.

Workers’ organisations have been protesting against the Centre’s move to sell the unit. They demanded that their opinions be considered before finalising any revival package.

CPM MP Dipankar Mukherjee, who represented the trade unions — including the Citu, the Intuc and the Aituc — at the BIFR hearing, urged that the workers be heard before the final decision on Jessop is taken.

During the hearing, the BIFR asked Chatterjee to place the opinions of the employees regarding the revival package. The CPM leader, however, expressed his inability to do so, saying the employees knew nothing of the proposal.

“The Jessop revival package has been drafted with an aim to privatise the unit and no discussion has been held with employees of the unit. The Centre has prepared the draft proposal through the State Bank of India, keeping the employees in the dark. We do not know why the government is playing hide and seek with the employees in the matter,” Chatterjee told the board.

Citu leader Ajit Chowdhury today welcomed the board’s decision. “The Union government is all set to sell a sizeable share of the unit to a private party. The latest move of the Centre is to run the unit through a joint venture. Employees must know about their fate and the industry’s future. Let us see the package and then give our opinions and suggestions,” he said.

The Bengal government also protested the move to privatise Jessop. The state government submitted a written statement before the BIFR, expressing concern over the development.

“We think that Jessop can be profitable if it is run with a proper package and policy,” it said.


Calcutta, May 2: 
The Bengal government’s investment hunt may have yielded little result till date, but the effort is getting visible and generating interest, said Sabeer Bhatia, co-founder of Hotmail, who scripted the archetypal Silicon Valley success story after selling his company to Microsoft at $400 million in 1997.

“It’s good to know that the West Bengal chief minister wants to follow the path shown by S.M. Krishna of Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh chief minister Chandrababu Naidu,” said 33-year-old Bhatia today. The Hotmail founder was in town to launch the Yes! messaging card offered by city-based cell operator Command.

“I must say people outside the state know that the government is trying, but I can’t exactly comment on the results of this exercise,” Bhatia said. During his second visit to the city — it has been 20 years since he first came here with his parents on way to Darjeeling — he found Calcutta to be “quite” clean with “nice roads”.

Bhatia, however, is “pretty” decided on focusing on his existing business ventures — Cradle Tech, Mediabolic Inc., and Navin Communication — for the “time being”. He is willing to consider Calcutta for setting up his next shop in the country.

“As an investor, you look for a talent pool, basic infrastructure like access to Internet, power supply, availability of quality office space and financing opportunities,” said the IT whiz, who bargained his way to one of the biggest deals in the industry.

Referring to the downturn in the IT business and its impact on India, Bhatia said companies could gain in the long run. “It’s true that the downturn has affected many companies. But at the same time, it has brought you back so many talented people to the country, which can effect a turnaround. Business outsourcing will also help,” he observed.

Bhatia, however, stressed that Indian companies must develop their own products. The engineering graduate from Stanford also foresees a lot of changes in the Indian IT industry. Paid e-mail service in India is not a distant dream, he feels. “Even I pay Microsoft for my e-mail account,” he pointed out.

The Bangalore boy’s views are, however, not limited to IT alone. Bhatia, a keen golfer, has a lot to say about his favourite sport, hockey. “It’s amazing that our team has fared so badly in the World Cup. I think that the great sport is paying the price for a system characterised by mismanagement and nepotism. It’s in complete disarray and the system needs as overhauling,” asserted Bhatia, who awarded the Indian team after their gold medal-winning show at the Bangkok Asian Games.

Bhatia, who lives in a luxury apartment in Pacific Heights on Broadway, one of the toniest addresses in San Francisco, and drives a Porsche Boxster and a Ferrari F1 355 Spider to unwind, still has the urge to make things better back home. Besides raising money for economically-challenged children in India, he is also rebuilding his school, St. Joseph’s in Bangalore.


New Delhi, May 2: 
The ugly face-off between the government and the Opposition in the Lok Sabha has not spared even the chair, with BJP and Samata Party MPs challenging a ruling of deputy Speaker P.M. Sayeed during question hour today.

The ruling was later overturned by chairman of the House panel Devendra Prasad Yadav, a member of NDA constituentJanata Dal (United), but reinstated by the business advisory committee.

Tension erupted when CPM MP Sunil Khan asked how freelance journalist R.V. Pandit was given “classified” documents on the purchase of coffins during the Kargil conflict while Parliament was kept in the dark.

When George Fernandes got up to reply, Khan protested saying he would not recognise him as the defence minister unless the latter was cleared by the Venkataswami Commission probing the Tehelka tapes.

Sayeed ruled that Khan had withdrawn his question and according to rules, the answer would not be printed. BJP and Samata MPs then kicked up a furore. As Sayeed tried to quieten them down, BJP MP Kirit Sommaiya took a rulebook from the Parliament staff for which he was rebuked by the Chair. The House was adjourned for two hours but BJP and Samata MPs continued their tirade against Sayeed.

When the House reconvened, Samata MP Prabhunath Singh demanded a fresh ruling from Yadav who was presiding over the House. Yadav, who was not present in the morning, ruled that since Khan asked his question, it would be treated as a property of the House. The contrary rulings were discussed in a meeting of the Lok Sabha business advisory committee, which decided that the one given by Sayeed would prevail.

BJP sources said they were unhappy with Sayeed because they expected him to give “protection” to the minister. “Instead of admonishing the CPM member, he merely expressed his anguish,” they said.

The BJP argued that if the member did not recognise Fernandes as a minister, he should not have posed the question or should have withdrawn it. The sources added that the other options before the member included not being present during question hour or not rising when his name was called out.

Earlier, the BJP had taken exception to Sayeed admitting the Gujarat motion under Rule 184 which entailed division of votes. Its members were also upset with his statement which accompanied the motion.

They felt he overstated the case on behalf of the “minorities” and overlooked the “Hindu” viewpoint. It was also alleged by the BJP that Sayeed’s statement read like the Congress’ memorandum on Gujarat.

The BJP also charged that Sayeed allowed Congress MP Mani Shankar Aiyar to speak during the discussion on Gujarat by overlooking the claims of NDA members. Aiyar had made a hard-hitting speech against the Centre and the Modi government and was frequently interrupted by the treasury benches.


New Delhi, May 2: 
The European Union today expressed concern over the Gujarat riots, but decided not to make an issue of it any further after it was convinced that India was taking “vigorous and effective” steps to address the situation.

“The two sides agreed that the recent controversy caused by media reports on the EU position on Gujarat had been regrettable, and decided to put this issue behind them,” foreign ministry spokesperson Nirupama Rao said this afternoon.

The EU is India’s largest trading partner. India’s exports to the EU this year were more than $6.6 billion while the imports were more than $5 billion. It is clear that neither of the two sides would like to spoil their relations over Gujarat.

Gujarat, among other issues, featured in today’s talk between senior officials of India and the EU troika represented by Belgium, Spain and Denmark. The Indian side was represented by foreign secretary Chokila Iyer.

Asked if the EU expressed concern over Gujarat in today’s talks, the spokesperson said: “Both sides stated their known positions on the issue.” But she quickly added: “The EU recognised their concerns regarding the violence, loss of life and property, and the requirement for urgent humanitarian relief had already been addressed vigorously and effectively in the Indian media, public opinion and civil society and by the Indian government and Parliament.”

Over the past three weeks, a controversy raged in the wake of media reports quoting from internal assessments of some European missions here on Gujarat. The sharp criticism of the government’s handling of the violence, described in some reports as evoking the memory of fascism in Germany and apartheid in South Africa, predictably outraged the government.

South Block had issued several statements on the reports, criticising the European missions for “deliberately leaking” their internal reports to the Indian media and cautioned them to keep off Gujarat — which it described as an “internal affair”.

The controversy took another turn when the EU demarche on Gujarat to the government was denied by South Block, which made it clear that the European nations had no business to state its position officially on an internal development.

The EU, aware of India’s sensitivity on Gujarat, watered down its criticism by making it clear in the demarche that though it was concerned over the violence, it also welcomed the steps announced by the government to restore normality.

At the meeting, the EU officials only re-stated this position. Delhi also gave up its belligerence and explained to the delegation the difficulty of the Gujarat situation and steps taken by the government to deal with it.

But the fact remains that both sides realised that they were making Gujarat a stumbling block in their otherwise cordial relations. Therefore, it was decided that the two sides would end the controversy.

The move appears to have been initiated by Spain – which has the EU presidency — and Denmark — which will get the presidency in July.


New Delhi, May 2: 
In a tactical move, leader of the Rajya Sabha and external affairs minister Jaswant Singh at the outset of the debate on Gujarat made it clear that his government supported the motion moved by the Opposition in “letter and spirit”.

The seven-line motion introduced by senior Congress leader Arjun Singh urged the Centre to intervene in Gujarat under Article 355 to protect the lives and properties of citizens and ensure proper rehabilitation of the victims. It expressed anguish at the continuing blood-letting in the state.

“We accept the motion in letter and spirit. The home minister has taken steps in accordance with Article 355. In the coming days, the government will take further steps,” said Jaswant in his short speech.

Jaswant, however, took nasty swipes at Arjun Singh, telling him: “The Congress MP lectured on the Constitution and democracy. I do not want to dig up old wounds. We still remember 1975. May be Arjun Singh has forgotten.”

In the light of the bitter night-long debate that rocked the Lok Sabha on Tuesday, the ambience in the Rajya Sabha was definitely “peaceful” barring the raucous exchanges when Rashtriya Janata Dal leader Laloo Prasad Yadav rose to speak.

The accusations against the government, however, continued to flow thick and fast even as the foreign minister maintained: “The government has never absolved itself of the continuance of the violence.

“Every loss of an Indian life regardless of caste, creed or sex grieves every Indian. It is a matter of great regret…. The government shares the sentiments of this House in totality. We have no difference in the phraseology,” Jaswant added.

Before the minister started speaking, Arjun Singh delved into the history of Nazi Germany and Sangh parivar guru M.S. Golwalkar. The ideological elements that were behind the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi, a Ram bhakt and the father of the nation, are now manning important positions, said Arjun Singh.

“The BJP, following its humiliating defeats in the recent Assembly elections, has gone back to Golwalkar’s basics,” stressed the veteran Congress leader.


Patna, May 2: 
The killing of four members of a backward caste Musahar family late last night, allegedly by musclemen of a powerful RJD leader, has sparked tension among Muslims and Musahars in the state’s rural heartland bordering Uttar Pradesh.

Senior police officers were camping in Gopalgunge to prevent any further escalation of the caste tensions. According to the police, the killing took place because the Musahars refused to serve toddy to the goons of a powerful RJD MP from Siwan.

This was the first time in recent memory that members of the Musahar community, known to be meek and disorganised, hit the streets protesting against atrocities against their caste. And because this happened in Laloo Prasad Yadav’s home district of Gopalgunge, the CPI (ML) — the self-proclaimed champions of the disenfranchised in these parts — is trying to reap political mileage. The party has renewed its campaign against Md. Shahbuddin, the roughneck RJD MP from Siwan and a widely acknowledged mafia kingpin of the Siwan-Gopalgunge area.

According to the police, four bullet-ridden bodies were found near a canal early this morning in Mirgunge area of Gopalgunge. The four bodies could not be identified till late in the morning, when a message from the neighbouring Siwan district informed that four Musahar men were missing. The residents of Sasar village identified the four bodies and said they came from the Purana Musahar Tolla area of Siwan.

Gopalgunge police superintendent Shahab Aktar said the four men were abducted from Siwan, killed there and their bodies were later dumped in Gopalgunge’s Mirgunge area.

“The incident has sparked social tension in the area and the police have stepped up vigilance in the area and deployment of police personnel has been increased,” Akhtar said.

The police said four RJD goons arrived at the Purana Musahar Tolla around midnight on April 30, allegedly woke up Narad and Dilip Musahar and demanded toddy. When the Musahar men refused, the four hoods entered the Musahar colony and misbehaved with their women.

The Musahar men alerted other villagers, who surrounded the four goons and thrashed them.

The next day, the four RJD supporters, Barku Mian, Chotku Mian and two others returned to the Musahar colony armed to the teeth and abducted Jagran Mushar, Abadh Mushar, Hari Mushar and Sidhu Mushar. They forced them to fetch some toddy, and after drinking, proceeded to strip the poor Musahars and kill them one by one from close range in a village in Siwan. Later the killers got a trolley to carry the bodies to Mirgunge and dumped them near the canal.

As news of the killing spread in the districts of Gopalgunge and Siwan, hundreds of Musahar men thronged the marketplace in Gopalgunge to demonstrate. A CPI-ML delegation met the district magistrate, demanding the arrest of the culprits.


New Delhi, May 2: 
Laloo Prasad Yadav, who is soon to host a show on Sahara television, decided to have a dry run in the Rajya Sabha and try out his entertaining skills on his colleagues.

If the reaction to his an-hour-and-little-more speech in the House is anything to go by, Laloo’s show will be a runaway success. After the bitter and grim debate earlier in the afternoon, Laloo’s maiden speech in the House helped lighten the atmosphere. Opposition members heard him in rapt attention and often thumped their desks in hearty approval.

He was provocative and biting in his criticism of the ruling BJP-led alliance. His tirade, laced with earthy humour, regaled the Opposition while grim-faced senior leaders of the BJP looked unimpressed.

Laloo had the treasury benches seeing red when he said the Godhra incident was planned by the Sangh parivar to give them an excuse to carry out their pogrom.

At one point when the treasury members refused to let him continue, Laloo stepped into the well of the House, placed his handkerchief and squatted on the floor in protest. He was joined by some of his RJD colleagues. The House was initially adjourned for 15 minutes, but the break was extended when the din continued.

Laloo had the BJP members up in arms when he asked Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and home minister L.K. Advani where they were when Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, Christians, scheduled castes and everyone else were together fighting for Independence. Neither the Prime Minister nor the home minister was in the House.

Laloo singled out VHP leader Ashok Singhal’s brother and former IPS officer B.P. Singhal for special attention. Livid at Laloo’s strident criticism of the VHP, Singhal had been interrupting him. Irked, Laloo said: “...don’t think these are the police lines”.

Laloo sought not just Narendra Modi’s suspension, but his arrest. He said the Gujarat chief minister and his Cabinet were instructing the state administration to pinpoint minorities not just in Ahmedabad, but right up to Surat.

Rajya Sabha chairman Krishan Kant clearly enjoyed the performance, asking the BJP shouting brigade not to interrupt the Bihar leader as this was his maiden speech in the House.

Laloo’s speech was long and winding, moving back and forth from the demolition of the Babri Masjid and the hate campaign of the VHP to the BJP’s corruption exposed in the Tehelka tapes. Describing the BJP as “Bharat Jalao Party”, Laloo said it had cheated god, too, by offering only a stone. Laloo’s reference to the two bricks handed over for the Ram temple sent the House into peals of laughter.


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