Salary hope for school teachers
Revenge scent in Trinamul killing
Training boost to madarsas
Haldia facelift on the cards
CNG to roll across grimy cities
Consensus but by any other name
Riots & relief hold up House
Sharad sounds jobs alarm
Law jolt to cable monopoly
Delhi eyes seat in security forum

 
 
SALARY HOPE FOR SCHOOL TEACHERS 
 
 
BY OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Calcutta, May 9: 
Teachers in the state are likely to receive their salaries by the end of this month after the education and finance departments finish processing declarations that the teachers are not taking private tuitions.

Nearly 2,00,000 teachers in government-aided schools, colleges and universities are yet to receive their salaries for April.

“I am hoping that the teachers will receive their salaries by May 24,” Bengal school education minister Kanti Biswas said today. Almost 90 per cent of the teachers had submitted the declarations, Biswas added.

The minister said his department had received declarations from teachers in 14 of the state’s 18 districts. “I expect to receive the rest by Monday. We will send them to the finance department by May 14,” he said.

Biswas, however, indicated that salaries of those who do not follow the directive on the ban on private tuitions would be frozen.

The government move to put an end to private tuitions by teachers was taken by the education department in December, said state finance minister Asim Dasgupta. “We had to wait as the examinations were about to begin,” he explained.

“I am still waiting for the declarations,” said Dasgupta at Writers’ Buildings. “We will continue to respect our teachers, but I also want to know what effect this move to ban private tuitions is having,” he added.

Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee had also expressed concern over the situation. Yesterday, the chief minister said he does not want teachers to go without pay and hoped that they would “cooperate with the government”.

CPM state secretary Anil Biswas assured today that the government would not do anything that was “insulting” to teachers. “The finance minister and the education minister are in touch with each other and there is no need for any apprehension of victimisation,” he said.

The CPM state secretary said words like muchlekha (undertaking) would not be used in the declaration forms. “The decision to end private tuitions came from within the teaching community so that standards improved in schools,” the CPM leader said.

All teachers’ organisations, barring the CPM-dominated All Bengal Teachers’ Association, have stuck to their call for a strike on May 16. Biswas, however, denied knowledge about who had called the strike.

Education department sources said processing the forms had delayed the payment of salaries to teachers. “The government should be careful in dealing with teachers, who are on vacation or are indisposed,” the sources said.

   

 
 
REVENGE SCENT IN TRINAMUL KILLING 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Usthi (South 24-Parganas), May 9: 
A Trinamul Congress leader was murdered last night in Usthi by alleged CPM men.

The murder of 55-year-old Bhudeb Haldar at Mahishmari comes in the wake of the killing of a CPM leader at Falta a few weeks ago. The murders have created a sense of unease among residents of the area.

Around 10 pm, when Haldar was having dinner with his family, 15 armed and masked youths dragged him out of his house to a nearby field. The assailants first hacked him with sharp weapons and then shot him with a revolver.

After the gang fled, the Trinamul leader was taken to local hospital where he succumbed to injuries.

No one has been arrested as yet. “We have got some names and our officers are conducting searches for the killers,” said additional superintendent of police (rural) S.S. Panda.

Residents of the area put up roadblocks demanding the arrest of the culprits. The protesters relented after senior police officers assured them that the killers would be arrested soon.

Local Trinamul leader Mrinmoy Sen alleged that Haldar was targeted by local youths patronised by CPM as he was trying to settle land disputes.

“Haldar was an important leader of the party. He was targeted as he became a stumbling block for some people with vested interests backed by the CPM,” claimed Sen.

“People used to go to Haldar with their problems. He was involved in social work and, of late, he was trying to solve land disputes,” said the Trinamul leader.

District CPM leader Sujan Chakraborty refuted the charges. “Haldar was murdered because of infighting in the Trinamul,” Chakraborty claimed.

Panda said the police are investigating the recent murders in the district. “We have already made some arrests in connection with the murder of the CPM worker at Falta and more arrests are likely to be made,” he asserted.

In another incident, several persons, including a woman, were injured in a clash at Panakua and Kalipur in Bishnupur between supporters of the two parties early this morning over possession of land. Both groups used pipeguns and bombs.

A 60-year old woman, Malina Iswar, and five others were injured. The injured were taken to the Vidyasagar Hospital, where Iswar’s condition is said to be critical.

Police said trouble had erupted a few days ago after a local criminal was released from jail.

   

 
 
TRAINING BOOST TO MADARSAS 
 
 
BY OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Calcutta, May 9: 
The state government today began a six-day training programme for teachers of senior madarsas of six South Bengal districts and Calcutta as part of its effort to upgrade madarsa education.

Nearly 100 teachers from 24 senior madarsas in South 24-Parganas, Purba Midnapore, Paschim Midnapore, Birbhum, Purulia and Bankura are attending the programme at the State Council of Educational Research and Training headquarters on Ballygunge Circular Road.

Teachers of the only senior madarsa in Calcutta also attended the programme organised by the West Bengal Board of Madrasah Education in collaboration with the state council and the West Bengal District Primary Education Project.

The enthusiasm shown by students while joining madarsas fast declines, said board secretary Samsul Alam. “The teachers will have to go out of the four walls of the classrooms and find the reasons behind this. The classrooms will have to be made more attractive and teachers should also find out the social problems haunting the dropouts,” he said.

The main objective of the madarsas was to educate the Muslim community and make its members good human beings, emphasised educational research council director Mohammad Refatullah.

“However, don’t make the classes boring. Don’t just go on lecturing. Let the students also participate. Deadpan teaching will not help. Curiosity will also have to be aroused among the pupils,” said Refatullah.

The former president of the West Bengal Board of Primary Education, Bhabesh Maitra, asserted that the curriculum of senior madarsas should be overhauled to match the syllabi of Madhyamik schools.

   

 
 
HALDIA FACELIFT ON THE CARDS 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Haldia, May 9: 
The Haldia Development Authority has taken up a project to beautify the banks of the Hooghly and the Haldi.

The 10-km riverbank stretch, owned by the Calcutta Port Trust, will be given a facelift in association with the port trust, the development authority and the Haldia municipality. The estimated project cost of Rs 40 crore is to be shared equally by the three agencies.

Haldia CPM MP Lakshman Seth, the brains behind the dream scheme, today said work on the project would start next month.

“As CPT is the owner of the land, we need final approval from them. The detailed project proposal, to which CPT is also a party, is lying with them. The approval is expected within a couple of days,” added Seth.

As per the proposal, the 10-km road along the riverbank from Balughata to Haldia Bhavan will be made a four-lane motorway. An entertainment park with an open-air theatre and a fountain will be constructed on 3.5 acres.

An amusement park and a port museum will also be built. Several historical documents of the Haldia port, along with a replica of the first ship anchored here, will be displayed. The construction of a water sports complex is also on the cards.

Seth, who is also chairman of the development authority, said he had asked the government for financial assistance. “The importance of Haldia is gradually increasing with many small industries coming up,” the legislator said. “So, the town should be developed.”

   

 
 
CNG TO ROLL ACROSS GRIMY CITIES 
 
 
FROM OUR LEGAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, May 9: 
The Supreme Court today slammed the Centre’s compressed natural gas (CNG) policy and directed the framing of a clear policy for extending the pollution-free fuel to more cities in the country.

A three-judge bench of Chief Justice B.N. Kirpal, Justice V.N. Khare and Justice Ashok Bhan termed the recent hike in CNG prices as “unreasonable, unwarranted and unjustified” and referred the matter to the Bhurelal Committee.

The bench refused any relief for diesel vehicles and said 800 diesel cars, buses and three-wheelers should be phased out every month and a fine of Rs 1,000 per day imposed if such vehicles continued to ply on the capital’s roads.

CNG should be extended to the other metros — Calcutta, Mumbai and Chennai — and Bangalore and Hyderabad and other cities and places “equally or more polluted” than Delhi. “We direct the Centre to submit a comprehensive plan for the compulsory switchover to CNG or LPG in cities other than Delhi,” the bench said.

It also directed the Centre to formulate a proposal for the use of LPG in two-wheelers and auto-rickshaws as it has been found safe for those vehicles.

The order said the Bhurelal Committee will examine how Indraprastha Gas Limited (IGL), the lone supplier of CNG for vehicles in Delhi, increased the price from Rs 13.11 to Rs 16.83 per kg. It pointed out that IGL will be raking in Rs 1 crore more per day after the hike.

The court asked the committee to point out whether the government had calculated the actual cost of the natural gas supplied to IGL by the Gas Authority of India Ltd (Gail) and the charges for compression before allowing the price hike.

The bench wondered why the public transport sector was forced to shell out Rs 16.83 per kg for CNG when industry paid only Rs 5.75. The hike had made CNG costlier than diesel. It pointed out that the actual cost of natural gas to the government was zero and it involved only transportation charges.

Solicitor-general Harish Salve, the amicus curiae in the case, told the court that CNG’s high price had a direct bearing on commuters. Gail has been supplying natural gas to IGL at the rate of about Rs 3 and IGL has to bear the cost of compressing the gas as there was no excise duty on CNG, he said.

Senior counsel for the diesel bus operators C.S. Vaidyanathan argued that the government’s failure to maintain adequate supply of compressed gas made it difficult for diesel bus operators to convert their buses. A CNG bus had to wait for 12 to 18 hours at a filling station, he said.

The court observed that normally courts of law do not interfere with policy matters of the government, but when it (the policy) is mala fide, there is no option before the court.

   

 
 
CONSENSUS BUT BY ANY OTHER NAME 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, May 9: 
Shiv Sena leader Manohar Joshi will be elected as the 13th Lok Sabha Speaker tomorrow, but a controversy has set in: while the government insists that he was chosen by consensus, the Opposition maintains that “consultation did not mean concurrence”.

The extent of unanimity (or the lack of it) over Joshi’s election was reflected in the fact that no major Opposition party — the Congress, the Left parties, the Samajwadi Party or the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) — backed his nomination.

The Opposition’s case was that though it broadly concurred with the ruling coalition’s decision to have its own Speaker — as it had a deputy Speaker from its ranks — it was not keen on a Sena nominee on ideological grounds.

The only non-NDA members who backed Joshi’s nomination were the small parties from his home state, Maharashtra — the Nationalist Congress Party, the Janata Dal (Secular) and the Bharipa Bahujan Mahasangh represented by Prakash Ambedkar.

Government sources said parliamentary affairs minister Pramod Mahajan had personally informed Congress president Sonia Gandhi and CPM leader Somnath Chatterjee that he had shortlisted Joshi and petroleum minister Ram Naik for the Speaker’s post. The move was made out of “sheer courtesy” and did not amount to a formal consultation, they added.

Sonia, sources said, did not object to either name and told Mahajan that the choice was left to him. However, Congress sources said that she added a caveat against Joshi’s name though they did not spell out what it was.

Mahajan apparently did not consult the Samajwadi and the RJD — the former out of “personal” consideration for chief Mulayam Singh Yadav and the RJD for “no particular reason”.

“The minister has a good rapport with Mulayam and he did not wish to put him in an awkward position,” sources said.

The government sources claimed that when Chatterjee was told of the names by Mahajan during the inauguration of the new library complex in Parliament on Tuesday, he went up to Joshi and congratulated him. Mahajan took the gesture as an acceptance.

However, the sources added that Chatterjee had made it clear that he would not support Joshi’s nomination.

The CPM veteran’s version was: “There is no question of accepting any candidate. We had decided not to contest the post. When he met me during the library building’s inauguration, he (Mahajan) mentioned the two names (Joshi and Naik) but he also clearly told me the government had not made up its mind. I told him we cannot support either because one was from the BJP and the other from the Shiv Sena.”

Asked if he had congratulated Joshi, Chatterjee said: “When I heard his name, out of politeness I wished him. But that does not mean Joshi was my candidate.”

“A unanimous choice is not the same as an uncontested election,” was Chatterjee’s argument. In other words, just because Joshi was elected unopposed it did not mean that the Opposition endorsed his candidacy.

A statement issued by the CPM politburo voiced its disapproval to Joshi’s appointment.

“At a time when the entire country is seriously concerned about the ongoing pogrom against the minorities in Gujarat, the choice of a Speaker from the Shiv Sena sends disturbing signals and will adversely affect the image of Parliament... ,” it said.

   

 
 
RIOTS & RELIEF HOLD UP HOUSE 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, May 9: 
Coffingate and Gujarat once again disrupted the Lok Sabha with an angry Opposition demanding the removal of Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi, accusing him of forcing the closure of relief camps in the riot-scarred state.

Members from the Congress, the Left parties, the Rashtriya Janata Dal and the Muslim League stormed the well of the House during zero hour alleging that Modi was putting thousands of camp inmates to hardship in the scorching heat of the state. “Modi hatao, desh bachao” (Remove Modi, save the country), they shouted.

Congress MP from Gujarat Madhusudan Mistry contested home minister L.K. Advani’s statement in the House denying any move to close the relief camps. Mistry accused Advani of misleading the members.

BJP members countered the Opposition onslaught urging the Chair not to allow the issue to be repeatedly raised when a full-fledged debate had already taken place. Deputy Speaker P.M. Sayeed tried to restore order but both sides refused to listen. Sayeed adjourned the House till lunch.

Earlier, defence minister George Fernandes came under sustained Opposition attack on Coffingate. At one stage, a visibly upset Fernandes said he was prepared to have a full-fledged discussion on the purchase of caskets amid heated exchanges between members of the ruling NDA and the Opposition.

“I am prepared to have a full debate on the coffin issue,” Fernandes said while responding to CPM’s Basudeb Acharya who wanted to know from the Chair the fate of his notice of breach of privilege against the minister.

Acharya referred to a newspaper report that said the government had purchased the caskets at double their rates from an American firm. Sayeed told Acharya that the notice was under consideration. Opposition members shouted down Fernandes during question hour when he rose to reply to a question.

   

 
 
SHARAD SOUNDS JOBS ALARM 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, May 9: 
Jobs in the organised sector have been steadily but definitely going down.

The industrial scene looks bleak on the eve of the Standing Labour Committee meeting beginning here tomorrow, as labour minister Sharad Yadav told the Rajya Sabha that jobs in the organised sector have gone down. More and more workers, it was clear, are now thronging the unorganised sector, which gets away with paying less to workers and sacking them at will.

The industries also are defaulting more and more. According to the March 31 RBI report, there are more than two lakh small-scale sick industrial units with an outstanding bank credit of more than Rs 3 crore. The report says the lack of efficiency in management and marketing is one of the main reasons for the rampant industrial sickness.

Ficci’s industry captains believe that the Indian industry is not being able to stand up to the challenges of globalisation and competition with multinational companies producing the same, if not better quality, goods at cheaper cost of production. “We have to be more productive — manufacture the same quantity of goods at cheaper competitive cost of production,” they say.

But the word efficiency, so far, has been a red rag for trade unions which insist that efficiency cannot be implemented in a vacuum. The Congress-sponsored Intuc has been a lone voice in the flock, singing a different tune. “We have to make our industries more productive, otherwise we will be swamped by goods from outside,” says Intuc secretary Chandidas Sinha.

It’s a voice the industry would like to hear more from the trade unions. Ficci officials say there are two ways of implementing efficiency — one, by replacing workers with machines or by amending labour laws which will bring in hire and fire and strip most jobs of their permanent character. “Given the existing labour law rigidities, the employers would like to have more automation to avoid hiring workers they can’t sack when they want,” the industry captains say.

The Standing Labour Committee meeting has an impressive agenda touching on all major issues like labour laws, unemployment, disinvestment and social security. But the result, as predicted by the government, trade unions, and industry captains alike, is going to be a reiteration of all that has been said in the past.

There are important concerns on which the positions taken by the opposing sides have virtually ruled out a dialogue. Tomorrow’s agenda issued by the labour ministry skips the contentious labour reforms and instead concentrates on less stormy subjects.

   

 
 
LAW JOLT TO CABLE MONOPOLY 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Chennai, May 9: 
The ADMK regime today moved a controversial new legislation in the Tamil Nadu Assembly aimed at regulating cable television in the state and curbing the monopoly in the cable TV network trade.

The new legislation introduces a licensing system to regulate and control cable TV operators and the exhibition of cable TV programmes.

The Tamil Nadu Exhibition on Television Screen through Multi-System Operations, Video Cassette Recorder and Cable Television Network (Regulation) Act, 2002, introduced at the end of the budget session by state information minister K.K. Balasubramanian, proposes to repeal the existing state Act of 1984 on cable TV.

The new Bill gives wide-ranging powers to the authorities. Besides the requirement of a license for video libraries, the licensing authority has been given the power to either grant or reject a license application for exhibition on television screens through MSOs, VCDs or cable TV network.

Under the proposed Act, no licensee “can compel any subscriber to whom cable connection has been given, to subscribe to any particular channel or for any particular number of channels.” The Act restricts films for screening to those certified for exhibition under the Central Cinematograph Act, 1952. The licensing authority can revoke any licence for violation of any of the provisions.

If any person dies as a result of any fault in the electric cables provided by a cable TV operator, the operator can be slammed with a prison term of two to five years and fined up to Rs 50,000.

The 27-page new Bill on cable TV, one of the biggest in the annals of Tamil Nadu legislation, prescribes other stringent penalties for violation of its various provisions, including confiscation of films that are “exhibited or kept in contravention of the provisions of this Act and rules made hereunder.”

The authorities may also seize the VCR or any machinery used by the MSO or the Cable TV Network for this purpose.

The new legislation is expected to kick up a political storm along with other pending Bills in the House, including the one that seeks to ban strikes in essential services of the state government and the other that seeks to disqualify MLAs and MPs from holding top-level posts in urban and rural local bodies.

The Assembly last night also deferred passage of the controversial Bill to ban the sale, storage and transport of plastic articles in the interests of environment protection, referring it to a select committee following a demand from members not to hurry with the legislation.

Jaya standoff

Deputy leader of the Opposition Durai Murugan was at loggerheads with chief minister Jayalalithaa over the alleged lethargy and inefficiency of the state bureaucracy. Murugan was speaking on the Appropriation Bill soon after introducing it.

Rebutting his charges, Jayalalithaa held the former DMK government responsible for the passivity and “utter demoralisation” of the bureaucracy.

   

 
 
DELHI EYES SEAT IN SECURITY FORUM 
 
 
FROM PRANAY SHARMA
 
New Delhi, May 9: 
India’s desire to get into the important security forum of the region, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, is likely to be fulfilled at its summit meeting in St Petersburg next month. The only rider is Pakistan may also find a berth.

Chinese President Jiang Zemin and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin are among the likely participants at the summit meet, slated to be held in the Russian city between June 6 and 7.

The all-important meeting will discuss a new charter of the outfit and the rules and criteria for new memberships. Indications suggest India may not find it difficult to get its candidature approved. But there is a strong feeling that among the new members it may also find Pakistan.

Though officially India will not participate in the summit, national security adviser Brajesh Mishra is scheduled to be in Moscow around the same time for the anniversary meeting of the Russian Security Council. Several Central Asian countries, which are members of the organisation, will also be there and it will give Mishra an opportunity to know the minds of most about the possible entry of India.

When it started in the early 1990s, following a Chinese initiative, the outfit was known as the Shanghai Five.

Apart from China and Russia, it had the three Central Asian countries — Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan. The idea was to include countries that had a common border with China but with a special emphasis on Central Asia.

The initial focus was to build and improve trade and economic relations between the five countries. But the rise of the Taliban in Afghanistan and the organisation’s patronage to the secessionists and political rebels in the region brought back the focus squarely on terrorism.

Uzbekistan, a key player in the region which was kept out of the forum initially, was encouraged to attend its meetings as an observer till last year, when it became the sixth member. Uzbekistan’s entry forced a change in the name of the outfit and Shanghai Five became Shanghai Cooperation Organization.

The renaming led to two major changes in the attitude of the outfit and of the countries that had been eyeing it for an entry. First, Uzbekistan’s entry widened the scope of other countries. Second, it led to a reassessment of its goals and composition.

Though initially keen to rope in other major players in the region to an outfit bearing the name of Shanghai, China started having second thoughts. But Uzbekistan, always known to be close to the Americans, has thrown up new worries for the Chinese leadership, especially because US troops have entered the region in the post September 11 scenario.

A legitimate worry for China now is whether the control of the outfit was slipping away from its hands.

India has been observing the growth of the organisation for many years and is now keen to be an active participant. Apart from providing it with a toehold in a forum that will discuss and co-ordinate positions on important issues relating to the security of the region, it also holds promises of co-operation between its members on trade and economics.

The region is also known for rich hydrocarbon resources and this, too, may prove beneficial for India in the days to come.

Another factor which led Delhi to show interest in the forum was Islamabad’s keenness to get into it. Pakistan has twice made abortive attempts to become part of the organisation.

   
 

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