Buddha salary salvo in tuition war
Bengal and business push for China flight
Lid off railway ticket racket
State boost for micro-surgery
Water woes blame on power board
Minority blow to Mamata
Khadim’s case link in agent arrest
China condolence call knocks on Howrah home
George stings Tehelka sleuths
Atal rush to pick consensus President

 
 
BUDDHA SALARY SALVO IN TUITION WAR 
 
 
FROM OUR BUREAU
 
May 8: 
Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee today indicated that his government will stick to its decision of withholding the salaries of teachers who have not submitted the declaration that they will not take private tuition.

“We do not desire that teachers should not receive their pay. I hope all the teachers will abide by the government decision and cooperate with us,” he said at Writers’ Buildings. Bhattacharjee said he would wait till May 13, the deadline for submitting the declaration, and then “do the needful”.

The government had issued a directive that teachers of all government-aided schools, colleges and universities would have to give a written declaration to the authorities concerned that they would not be connected with private tuition.

The finance department recently wrote to the secretaries of school education and higher education to ascertain whether teachers had submitted the declarations. “The grant-in-aid for payment of salaries will be released only after getting the response from the two departments,’’ the letter said.

Finance officials said the government intends to dock the salaries of those who have not complied with the education department’s directive. Sources in the government said only a small section of teachers are yet to give the undertaking.

Officials of the education department said the picture is “still unclear” as there has been a delay in collecting all the declarations and forwarding them to the education secretariat in Salt Lake. “It is not an easy task to collect declaration papers from about two lakh teachers. It will take some more time and we think all the teachers will abide by the directive,” said a senior officer.

The issue has taken on a political colour with the Congress-controlled Secondary Teachers’ Association calling a statewide teachers’ strike on May 16 in protest against the “government’s threat” to hold up the salaries of “errant teachers”.

Association secretary Ratan Laskar said the government had no right to withhold salaries. “The declaration has no value. Besides, the government should give more time to the teachers to take a decision. If the government tries to do something forcefully, we will resist it,” he said.

The All Bengal Teachers’ Association (ABTA), the largest teachers’ organisation in the state controlled by the CPM, has sent a circular to its district and circle units to speed up the process of submitting the declaration. ABTA spokesman Adhikram Sanyal said almost all their members had submitted the declaration and the rest will do so within a couple of days.

A group of teachers led by different teachers’ organisation, excluding the ABTA, today staged a dharna before the office of the district inspector of schools at Behrampore in Murshidabad district.

   

 
 
BENGAL AND BUSINESS PUSH FOR CHINA FLIGHT 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, May 8: 
The state government is in talks with China Airlines for a direct flight from West Bengal to China.

Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee disclosed this to CII president Ashok Soota at a meeting today.

Soota, who will be visiting China next Monday, may take up the issue with the airlines. “I gave him the proposal. He immediately directed chief secretary S.N. Roy to prepare a note on the proposal so that we can carry it to China for further discussion,” he told reporters.

Several initiatives were taken up during the 45-minute discussion, he added. A 13-point action plan was agreed upon which will be taken forward by CII.

Soota said CII will set up a centre of excellence in Calcutta on the lines of those already functioning at Hyderabad and Bangalore. “It will be dedicated to the services sector. But the area has not been finalised. We will get back to the state government soon,” he said.

“The chief minister has informed us that a new IT centre will be set up at Rajarhat and a new special economic zone at Kulpi. He has also said the government will announce a bio-tech policy within a week. We will help identify a world-class university to assist the government to set up a centre of bio-tech in Calcutta,” Soota said.

CII also plans to cooperate with the government in several fields. It will assist Writers’ Buildings implement the McKinsey report on IT and agro industry. The country’s premier business forum will also do major roadshows both in India and overseas with the state government to promote West Bengal as a major investment destination for IT, IT-enabled services, bio-tech, agro-processing, infrastructure and healthcare. They also decided on a series of initiatives to invite NRIs from West Bengal, particularly in North America.

CII will help the government select partners for road projects, especially for expressways between Calcutta and Haldia, and Calcutta and Kulpi.

“We have jointly decided to give a major focus on the communication and IT infrastructure, which will help promote e-commerce and e-governance,” Soota said.

IAS reshuffle

The state shuffled 14 senior IAS officers following the retirement of two bureaucrats.

The education secretary now is Hirak Ghosh, the former land reforms commissioner. K.S. Ramasubbam, the outgoing environment secretary, will take charge of the minorities development department. The new forest secretary is Manjula Gupta. She replaces C.S. Samal, who moves to the refugee rehabilitation department.

   

 
 
LID OFF RAILWAY TICKET RACKET 
 
 
FROM PROBIR PRAMANIK
 
Gangtok, May 8: 
A senior Sikkim government official and his cohort have been taken into custody after a major embezzlement of railway funds came to light here recently.

Meg Raj Chhettri, deputy general manager of the Sikkim transport department, and computer programmer Prem Singh Rai were arrested on May 1 after the vigilance department discovered that about Rs 1 crore had been siphoned off from the Northeast Frontier Railway’s (NFR) computerised reservation outlet run by the Sikkim Nationalised Transport (SNT) on Paljor Stadium Road in Gangtok. The hunt is on for the “others” involved in the scam.

A handful of government officials were allegedly pilfering the funds for over five years. The lid was blown off the scam when the NFR authorities came to “recover” unpaid dues.

Sources in the state transport department said the SNT had failed to furnish yearly balancesheets to the NFR for the past few years. “The state runs the railway’s computerised reservation counter as an ‘out agency’ on a commission basis. It collects 20 per cent of the sales proceeds and the rest is deposited in the NFR’s account. Railway funds to the tune of Rs 97 lakh are believed to have allegedly been misappropriated by some of those involved with the computerised ticket counter here in Gangtok,” they said.

Outlining their modus operandi, the sources said Chettri and his men cleverly left alone the state’s 20 per cent commission, but allegedly routed the railway’s dues to their personal bank accounts. This apart, the conmen are also supposed to have issued fake ticket printouts. When the department got complaints that tickets booked from the SNT counter were turning out to be fake, it passed off these incidents as computer mistakes.

Director of Sikkim vigilance department Jasbir Singh refused to give more details but conceded that the arrests were just the tip of the iceberg.

“The scam definitely looks pretty deep-rooted and organised for it go undetected for such a long period. Other arrests are likely soon,” Singh said.

   

 
 
STATE BOOST FOR MICRO-SURGERY 
 
 
BY OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Calcutta, May 8: 
Hospitals in the state are set to undergo a major facelift with the government initiating a drive to equip them with state-of-the-art treatment facilities to combat a steady rise in non-communicable diseases.

“Facilities like minimal invasive surgery — as in laparoscopy — and dialysis will be made avai-lable to patients,” said a senior official of the health depar-tment today.

At the World Bank health project session on Tuesday, health minister Suryakanta Mishra underscored the need to upgrade and introduce new equipment in hospitals so that they function more effectively in providing cure to patients. He said the state will also announce special service norms for staff manning these new diagnostic and surgical clinics.

The health department has within its resources Rs 55 crores as an unallocated share in the Rs 700-crore World Bank project, which ends in March 2004.

The session, attended by medical experts from the government as well as the private sector, noted the alarming increase in development diseases, like that affecting the endocrinal and cardio-respiratory system. These fatal non-communicable diseases were responsible for 34 per cent deaths, the physicians said.

On the other hand, deaths caused by communicable diseases like cholera and typhoid, and those related to maternity distress and malnutrition had more or less steadied at 54 per cent, they said.

Health secretary Asim Barman said that with the introduction of minimal invasive surgery in hospitals, the turnover rate would increase, helping hospitals to treat more patients. “As a result, patients will spend a minimum amount of time in the hospital,” he said.

In addition to this, the hospitals will also be computerised to build up a data bank of disease profiles and mortality details. For this, about Rs 1 crore has been allocated and personnel are being trained.

The health department has procured software that will enable it to have a ready data base on diseases and the deaths caused by them. “Till now we were depending on data that was manually compiled. But now, we hope to have information at the click of a mouse,” Barman said.

   

 
 
WATER WOES BLAME ON POWER BOARD 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Berhampore, May 8: 
Stung by criticism for his failure to provide safe drinking water to people in the arsenic-affected areas, public health engineering minister Gautam Deb passed the buck to the state electricity board.

“Even though several water filter plants in different areas are ready, they have remained defunct as the SEB officials have not provided the power connection. I have asked them to complete the work on an emergency basis because there is a drinking water crisis in some areas in summer,’’ Deb said. The minister is likely to take up the matter shortly with power minister Mrinal Banerjee.

Deb first expressed annoyance over the power board’s poor functioning during a visit to Murshidabad on Sunday to inaugurate a Rs 1-crore water filter plant at Chhayghari.

“We have already constructed 10 projects in Murshidabad district to supply arsenic-free water. All the projects are ready. But we can’t use them because the WBSEB is yet to provide the connection. We have deposited the required money, but are not getting the connections. Why should poor people in the district suffer for the WBSEB’s fault?” he had asked.

Deb also expressed concern over similar pending projects in other districts because of the Centre’s recent decision not to sanction funds. “The Union government has stopped sanctioning money to us for such projects. Despite this, we have completed some of the projects. But I am really shocked to learn that these projects are not running due to non-supply of electricity by the WBSEB,” he said.

   

 
 
MINORITY BLOW TO MAMATA 
 
 
BY OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Calcutta, May 8: 
Mamata Banerjee today paid dearly for her support to the Centre on the Gujarat issue when a Muslim party leader from North 24-Parganas quit, questioning her “secular credentials”.

Idris Ali, who had switched to the Trinamul Congress last year, said he had conveyed his decision to party president Subrata Bakshi. “Muslims are hurt at the way Mamata blatantly voted against the motion and supported the BJP’s stand on Gujarat,” he said. Ali wanted to convey his “feelings” to Mamata, but she left for Delhi this evening.

Bakshi said Ali had informed him of his willingness to resign. “I requested him to meet us tomorrow before taking a decision. Unfortunately, Idris turned down the request,” he said.

Ali, also a key functionary in the Trinamul-controlled West Bengal Pradesh Qaumi Tanzeem, claimed that over 5,000 Trinamul workers, mostly from the minority community, had quit to protest against Mamata’s “double standard” in politics.

   

 
 
KHADIM’S CASE LINK IN AGENT ARREST 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, May 8: 
A CID special team today arrested Md Khalek, alias Khalid, an agent who ferried Pakistani militants across the Bangladesh border and had played a key role in the Khadim’s abduction case.

Khalid was arrested from Padmapukur, a small hamlet in Bagdah in North 24-Parganas bordering Bangladesh, last evening.

Employed by kidnap mastermind Asif Reza Khan, Khalid had acted as a guide for Arshad who had shot at Khadim’s owner Parthapratim Roy Burman at Tiljala during the abduction on July 25 last year.

Khalid had also helped Naeem, Naveed and Dilshad, all foreign militants, sneak into West Bengal. “He had helped all of them sneak in and out of West Bengal whenever the heat was on and had played a key role in the Khadim’s abduction case,” said inspector-general of police (CID) Partha Bhattacharya.

The CID got vital clues about Khalid when arrested miscreant, Sikandar, spilled the beans about Khalid’s role and confessed they were close friends.

   

 
 
CHINA CONDOLENCE CALL KNOCKS ON HOWRAH HOME 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Howrah, May 8: 
The call from Dalian in China never came through. Instead, a strange voice broke the news that shattered the Koley family and changed the course of their lives.

It was around 6 am today that an official of China’s Northern Airlines called up the home of Raj Kumar Koley at the Ichhapur area of Kadamtala, Howrah. “We regret to inform you that Mr Raj Kumar Koley was killed when our aircraft crashed into the sea last night. He is among the 112 passengers and crew who lost their lives. Please accept our condolences.”

When Koley, 43, the eldest of three brothers, left Howrah for the airport on Monday, he had told his wife Supriya and parents that he would call on reaching Dalian, in China’s Liaoning province.

He has been working as head of the R&D department at Orind Refractories’ China outlet for the past three years. The firm, which makes special firebricks for use in blast furnaces of steel plants, is one of the few Indian enterprises that have units outside the country.

Raj Kumar was the only Indian among the eight foreigners on board the MD-82 aircraft. Northern Airlines Flight 6136 was to have taken him from Beijing to Dalian, but crashed into the sea off the coast after a fire reportedly broke out in the cockpit.

Koley, who visits his family and home twice a year, was returning to work after a vacation that usually lasts a month. But this time it was extended on account of a visit to his company’s head office in Rourkela.

“We had no idea that this would be his last holiday with us,” said younger brother D.K. Koley, an engineer at the Howrah Municipal Corporation. “We were expecting him again during the Durga pujas, but that is not to be,” he sighed.

The women of the family can barely contain their grief. A shocked Supriya is passing through spells of fainting and crying.

The Koleys had been married in 1989 and spent most of the years in Rourkela. Their two daughters, Paheli, 11, and Paulomi, 7, are too young to fully comprehend the loss of a father. Both students of St Thomas Church School in Dasnagar, they are bewildered by the crowd of grieving relatives and friends.

“We have lost a very friendly and warm-hearted nephew-in-law,” said Amarnath Adhikary, Supriya’s uncle, even as Raj Kumar’s mother Champa cried out in anguish.

Raj Kumar’s body is yet to be identified and could be among the 64 recovered from the sea. “We are waiting for further news on this. Borda’s company is also in touch with the airline,” said S.K. Koley, youngest brother and medical officer in charge of the Bankurta primary health centre near Deulti. He rushed to Howrah after receiving the news this morning.

“We were a very close-knit family. Borda, who is a ceramic engineer, was our figurehead and ideal. He guided and helped us through our education,” he said.

Their 76-year-old father Tarapada is benumbed into silence by the tragedy.

   

 
 
GEORGE STINGS TEHELKA SLEUTHS 
 
 
FROM OUR LEGAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, May 8: 
Defence minister George Fernandes today slammed the Tehelka sting operation as a “sham” and said he doubted the veracity of the tapes that depicted corruption in defence deals.

Deposing before the Justice K. Venkataswami Commission of inquiry for the first time since the scandal erupted, Fernandes said the entire episode was aimed at defaming him, his party and demoralising the armed forces.

“If they (the Tehelka reporters) had the genuine aim of exposing corruption, then they should have cross-checked with me or even the Prime Minister,” he said during cross-examination by the commission’s counsel, Siddharth Luthra. Fernandes said the secret operation served to “help only Pakistan”, besides lowering the “morale” of the armed forces.

“The fake arms purchase deals,” Fernandes declared from the witness box, “made it clear that it had mala fide and not noble intentions.” In the bargain, the losers were “defence personnel, morale of my country and morale of the troops”, Fernandes, who was forced to resign as defence minister after the exposé but was later reinstated, told the commission.

If the news portal had no faith in “me or the Prime Minister, they should have approached the supreme commander of the armed forces — the President of India — on the whole issue”, he added. The defence minister said the sting operatives should be probed for their “mala fide intentions”. “Their motives were against the defence ministry, the defence minister with objectives which needed to be probed”, Fernandes said.

“If they (Tehelka) had information of any such corruption in the ministry, then, they should have approached me. But.... no ... they had assumed that the defence minister was corrupt,” he argued, to buttress his contentions. The portal, he added, had “bad intentions” against Atal Bihari Vajpayee also as they had made allegations of corruption against the Prime Minister.

“They could have gone to the Prime Minister... but according to them, he (Vajpayee) was also involved in various money transactions,” Fernandes said.

The Samata Party leader said his party’s treasurer R.K. Jain, who was accused of accepting money from the Tehelka team for facilitating defence deals, had ceased to hold the post much before the Tehelka tapes were made public in March 2001. According to the Samata’s constitution, the post of the treasurer, he said, was “not very important” as that of the president’s.

Fernandes said he had never known Tarun Tejpal, the managing editor of the news portal or any of the reporters, Anirudh Bahal or Samuel Mathews, who had carried out the sting operation. So he had no animosity against them.

“On that day (March 13, 2001, when the tapes were made public), I was doing roster duty in Parliament,” he said. “I got a note from my office saying something serious has happened. Please come to South Block at once,” he said, recalling the content of the note.

“At the office I saw two tapes and some documents.... And (the) tapes .... when I viewed (them), were dark but there were some head movements and what got my attention immediately was the sub-title at the bottom of the picture: ‘The defence minister was beyond redemption’,” Fernandes said.

“I went through the documents. As the same day there was a Cabinet meeting and the Prime Minister wanted to know, my Cabinet colleagues wanted to know what exactly it was. I had to brief the Cabinet.... The whole thing was a sham,” he added.

Kargil coffin ruckus

The Rajya Sabha was thrown into turmoil today over the coffin scam, leading to a brief adjournment and an Opposition walkout even as the defence minister said the government could probe the purchase of caskets for slain soldiers at Kargil.

After the Opposition parties, barring the ADMK, walked out, George Fernandes said the Indian embassy in Washington had been asked to give details about the caskets’ procurement from the US and this would be handed over to the public accounts committee, already investigating the issue.

Earlier, the upper House was plunged into turmoil when Congress member Suresh Pachouri raised the issue during zero hour, demanding Fernandes’ resignation and a statement from the Prime Minister on a court notice to the CBI to register a case against those involved in the Tehelka expose.

   

 
 
ATAL RUSH TO PICK CONSENSUS PRESIDENT 
 
 
FROM RADHIKA RAMASESHAN
 
New Delhi, May 8: 
Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee is keen to evolve a consensus on who the next President will be and if that is achieved, finalise the name before he goes on his annual vacation to Manali, sources close to him said.

In case the Opposition is unwilling to go in for a consensus, the BJP-led government is ready for a contest, the sources added.

Their calculation is the ruling coalition has the requisite numbers to push its choice through, both with the existing allies and new acquisitions like the Bahujan Samaj Party, the ADMK and splinter groups of the Samajwadi Party and the Rashtriya Janata Dal.

Maintaining, however, that Vajpayee’s first endeavour would be to achieve unanimity, sources close to him said he would begin the process of consultation this week itself by meeting the leader of the Opposition, Sonia Gandhi. The date has to be finalised.

Vajpayee is then expected to call on other Opposition leaders from the Left and the Samajwadi Party. This round over, he will, then, meet leaders of the NDA allies individually, said sources.

Vajpayee is slated to leave for Manali on May 20 for a week. After he returns, he will take off for Turkey and Kazakhstan and return in early June.

The new President will have to be sworn in before July 25 when K. R. Narayanan’s tenure comes to an end. But given the complexities and political nuances in-built in the exercise, sources close to Vajpayee said he did not wish to leave things to the last but sort them out this month itself.

The Presidential election being his priority, sources close to Vajpayee said the Cabinet reshuffle would have to wait until June.

The ministries of coal and mines and heavy industries — which have fallen vacant after the resignation of Ram Vilas Paswan and the impending resignation of Manohar Joshi respectively — will be delegated to existing ministers.

   
 

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