Cure lure to stem patient drain
Bus strike threat in 10 districts
SC serves notice on defaulter CESC
Mamata, BJP patch-up stumbles on Sikdar
Highway dacoit in police net
Chit-fund cheats held
Riots exodus spawns terror fears
Rabri, royals in land tug-of-war
A year in hot seat: Jaya wins some, loses some
TMC inches closer home

Calcutta, May 12: 
The government is putting in place a multi-pronged strategy in an effort to stem the tendency among patients to seek super-speciality treatment at centres outside Bengal.

“Operation Excellence”, as health officials are calling it, got off the blocks last week with files flying through the corridors of power, sources in the department said.

The efforts were mentioned by chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee at a function today to inaugurate the second phase of Park Clinic, a private non-profit enterprise.

“We have an elaborate health system in the state catering to up to 70 per cent of the population. Treatment of any disease is possible in Bengal. But there is a need to improve the quality of healthcare, and the government alone cannot provide this,” he said.

“Several joint efforts have recently been encouraged and more are on the cards. There are plans to set up centres of excellence at each of the eight medical colleges in the state. Private doctors and specialists will also be involved. I had a meeting with the health minister last week and we have finalised a strategy to invite doctors outside Bengal, be they in India or abroad.”

He said the objective of setting up centres of excellence was to ensure “there was no need for anyone to go to Mumbai or Chennai for treatment”. “We took up each hospital individually and discussed which area of speciality could be improved on in each of them,” he said.

In a bid to involve private sector doctors, a website is being created, the file for which was “passed” by health minister Suryakanta Mishra last Friday. The contents are aimed to appeal to the patriotic chord in NRI doctors. Several letters of interest from doctors who have passed out of these medical colleges and are now practising in the US or UK prompted the idea.

Specialists from the private sector who have shown willingness to be involved will serve as honorary consultants and will be welcome to participate whenever they visit their homeland. “The first such joint sector effort has already been established at the Calcutta Medical College and Hospital, where famous neurologists and neurosurgeons from the UK and Mumbai are involved,” said health secretary Asim Burman.

The neurology outdoor department functions twice a week, and the indoor section is scheduled to commence operations by August, he said.

Under Operation Excellence, super-speciality centres will also come up at R.G. Kar Medical College and Hospital (cardiological sciences), Burdwan Medical College and Hospital (paediatrics and neonatology) and Bankura Sammilani Medical College and Hospital (nephrology).

North Bengal Medical College and Hospital, Nil Ratan Sarkar Medical College and Hospital and National Medical College and Hospital are also slated to be centres of excellence.


May 12: 
Protesting against alleged corruption in the state transport authority (STA) and random issuing of licences, private bus operators in 10 districts today threatened to go on an indefinite strike.

“We will observe a one-day token strike on June 12 and if that is not enough to put pressure on the STA, we will have to go on an indefinite strike,” said Kajal Roy, vice-president of the Malda Bus Owners’ Association and an influential official of the North Bengal Passengers’ Coordination Committee.

Private bus operators from 10 districts — Burdwan, Purulia, Hooghly, Midnapore, Malda, Bankura, Nadia, Murshidabad, Birbhum and West Dinajpur — assembled at Burdwan this morning to attend an emergency meeting at Bisram Bhavan here. The date of the strike was finalised at the meet.

Concerned over the proposed one-day strike, officials at the transport department in Calcutta tonight said district magistrates have been asked to initiate a dialogue with the agitating bus owners to dissuade them from going ahead with their plan.

Kuldip Singh, president of the Burdwan District Bus Owners’ Association, said the one-day strike would be a “stepping stone” for a bigger and more intensive movement.

“The STA does not bother to go by the existing norms in issuing permits to private buses. We are also aggrieved at the way the insurance premium has been hiked. We want the government to intervene to save thousands of private bus operators from incurring huge losses,” Singh said.

Due to faulty surveys by the STA, there were many routes where more than 30 buses have been given permits. But the volume of passengers is so thin that the buses are running at a loss. On the other hand, some routes have less buses and more passengers than they can cope with.

A steering committee of the transport operators will be formed to direct the campaign for the proposed strike.


New Delhi, May 12: 
The Supreme Court has issued showcause contempt notices to Calcutta Electric Supply Corporation Limited (CESC) chairman R.P. Goenka and his son and vice-chairman Sanjiv Goenka for not complying with an order to make payments to the Damodar Valley Corporation (DVC).

A three-judge bench of Chief Justice B.N. Kirpal, Justice Arijit Passayat and Justice H.K. Sema issued the notices on DVC’s appeal and asked the parties to reply by July 9, the next date for hearing. DVC supplies power to CESC.

DVC counsel Kirit Rawal and Rana Mukherjee contended that CESC owed more than Rs 69 crore to DVC and despite orders by Calcutta High Court and the Supreme Court, it continued to ignore its dues.

A single-judge bench of Calcutta High Court, where the case is pending, had earlier ordered a payment of Rs 8 crore to DVC after CESC’s “admitted position” that it owed Rs 11 crore. However, it paid Rs 5 crore, and then approached the division bench of the high court. The division bench gave CESC seven days to pay up the rest.

At this juncture, DVC approached the apex court. In an order on March 23 this year, the Supreme Court said: “If the sum of Rs 11 crore is not paid by the respondent (CESC) to the appellant (DVC) by March 31, 2002, any interim orders subsisting against the appellant shall stand automatically vacated and the appellant will be at liberty to take such further action as may be available to it in accordance with law.”

This means automatic vacation of the high court’s earlier order that DVC would not disconnect supply to CESC.

In its order, the apex court had added: “If this amount is not paid within the time fixed, the single judge shall dispose of the application after hearing the parties by May 31, 2002.” It also highlighted the high court’s order that “out of the admitted amount of Rs 11 crore, a sum of Rs 8 crore be paid by the respondent to the appellant”.

The bench added: “While passing interim orders, the (high) court has to be conscious of the fact that for the electricity consumed, money has to be paid and it should not be a case of misplaced sympathy for the respondent (CESC) company.”


Malda, May 12: 
Ignoring a BJP central command directive on poll deals with Mamata Banerjee, Tapan Sikdar today exhorted partymen to fight the panchayat elections independently.

Addressing party workers at Malda town, the junior communications minister said: “Our fight in Bengal is against the CPM. We are not bothered about what the Trinamul Congress or the Congress are doing now. Moreover, Trinamul is not at all a factor in West Bengal. The party is gradually losing its credibility and you need not consider it as a major player during the ensuing panchayat elections.”

Sikdar had addressed another rally at Chanchol yesterday as part of a drive to enthuse BJP activists before next year’s panchayat polls.

The Mamata-baiter’s statement came just a day after the state BJP leadership finalised an electoral tie-up with Trinamul and withdrew its candidate for the Onda Assembly byelection.

“We will work for the Trinamul Congress and the combine will emerge as a formidable force in the coming days,” state BJP vice-president Muzaffar Khan had said yesterday.

The minister also tore into the state government, accusing it of not utilising Central funds worth crores of rupees sanctioned under various development schemes for the poor.

Quoting from the Comptroller and Auditor General’s report at a news conference, Sikdar said West Bengal had failed to utilise Rs 227 crore sanctioned under the Prime Minister’s Gram Samriddhi Yojana.

He pointed out that funds released between 1997 and 2001 had also gone back to the Centre. Tranches of Rs 611 crore and Rs 350 crore sanctioned under the Golden Jubilee Self-Employment Scheme and the Karma Sunischit Yojana respectively were returned during this period.

“In most cases, the Central funds had gone back to Delhi as the state government had failed to sanction 20 per cent state share for utilising various Central funds,” Sikdar alleged.

The Centre had also sanctioned Rs 126 crore for maintenance of national highways in the state. But the state had utilised only Rs 13 crore. Now the Centre has taken over the responsibility of maintaining National Highway 34, Sikdar said.

He also accused the CPM-controlled government of not distributing rice and wheat sent by the Centre. “I know the foodgrain will be distributed just before the panchayat polls to woo the voters,” the minister said.

Buddha blasts Trinamul

Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee today slammed Mamata Banerjee for supporting the NDA on the Gujarat issue at a time when several alliance partners had registered their protest against the Prime Minister’s handling of the Gujarat issue.

He praised former coal minister Ram Vilas Paswan for his “bold” decision to quit the ministry on the issue.


Behrampore, May 12: 
Acting on a tip-off, Murshidabad police last night snared highway robber Mainul Sheikh, alias Kalu, with four gang members after laying a trap near Rezinagar police station on the Nadia-Murshidabad border. The robbers had come to the area to waylay a long-distance passenger bus.

Deputy inspector-general of police, Murshidabad range, D.P. Tarenia said Sheikh was wanted for two dozen dacoities and murders.

The gang had shot at and injured three policemen during a recent attempt to nab them. “He is a specialist in highway robbery. Sheikh operated between Farakka and Barasat on National Highway 34,” he said.

Elaborating on Sheikh’s modus operandi, Tarenia said his informers tipped him off on phone about the buses leaving from Esplanade and Babughat and the passengers and valuables they were carrying. He and his gang would then intercept the bus either as passengers or by force and rob them.

But luck ran out for Sheikh last night. Police tapped one of his associates with the promise of amnesty and found out from him that Sheikh was preparing to strike at Rezinagar.

Four policemen boarded the bus in Calcutta as passengers and a police jeep waited half a kilometre from the Rezinagar speed-breaker. As soon as the robbers were spotted, the jeep was alerted.

Sheikh and his associates were surrounded and captured. Police said large quantities of arms and ammunition were seized from the Maruti.

Murshidabad superintendent of police S. Virender and others interrogated Sheikh during the day.


Hooghly, May 12: 
Police bust a hoax chit fund in Haripal yesterday and arrested a couple for swindling people of nearly Rs 1 crore.

Shibaji Banerjee was held in Uttarpara while his wife, Aparna Mitra, was picked up from her residence in Haripal last night.

The duo, believed to be Trinamul Congress supporters, had allegedly collected about Rs 1 crore from several people in Haripal and Uttarpara after promising them an exorbitant 28 per cent interest on the deposits for the chit fund.

Police said Shibaji posed as an agent of the company and Aparna worked under him as a sub-agent.

Aparna is the sister of Samiran Mitra, a Trinamul activist who had contested the last Assembly election from the Haripal Assembly seat. She had recently married Shibaji and begun living with him in Uttarpara.

Police swung into action after receiving several complaints in Haripal. The couple paid dividends to some of the investors to gain the confidence of the local people. They succeeded in convincing some residents, who deposited several lakhs.

Nandadulal Roy, a resident of Bahir Serampore, had invested Rs 9 lakh with the company, the police said. Benimadhab Chatterjee of the same locality put in Rs 8 lakh while Sudeb Chatterjee of Haripal had deposited Rs 12 lakh, the police said.

The investors became suspicious when they did not receive any dividend even three months after the investment. When contacted, the duo refused to refund the capital collected for the chit fund.

Aparna and Shibaji used to tell the investors that they would get back the money with interest after six months. But after a futile wait the duped depositors lodged the complaint.


New Delhi, May 12: 
The National Commission for Minorities fears that the refusal of riot-hit Muslim victims of Gujarat to return home could create a disturbing situation akin to Jammu and Kashmir and spur terrorism in the state.

Sources said the commission was concerned that about one lakh riot victims, fearing attacks from Hindu hardliners, were unwilling to return home and preferred to stay where their co-religionists outnumbered Hindus.

The sources added that resettlement on religious lines would change the demography and result in a more fragmented society. Besides, an area populated by victims with a collective wounded psyche would be fertile ground for recruiting activists by anti-national groups.

Political analysts fear that Kutch, with more than 60 per cent Muslim population and sharing a long porous border with Pakistan, could react to the plight of their brethren in Ahmedabad and elsewhere.

The demographic changes could spur terrorism especially in Kutch and other Muslim-dominated areas. The anxiety is that with the political establishment, police and administration looking the other way during the riots, frustrated Muslim youths could fall prey to anti-nationals groups and the ISI.

But last month, a minorities panel team, which visited the riot-hit state, had favoured a demographic change to ease tension between the two communities. The team felt that with some minority members shifting from the walled city to upmarket localities, it created a “threat” to Hindu residents. The Hindu resentment, in turn, was met with a “macho” reaction, resulting in an “intolerant” atmosphere.

Though the solution seems appealing, it is fraught with danger, said a source in the commission. Some worry that underworld don Dawood Ibrahim could cash in on the disquiet and recruit minority youths. There were reports that Dawood was looking to recruit Muslim youths to join his company and seek revenge.

Following reports that the second phase of the riots degenerated into a Dalit-Muslim battle, Lok Janshakti Party president Ram Vilas Paswan today launched a nationwide programme to create awareness among Muslims and Dalits.

At a meeting here attended by a large number of Dalits and Muslims, Paswan said: “With this rally, we have launched a nationwide programme to create awareness among the two communities that their unity was essential for their development.”

The former Union minister said if President’s rule is not imposed in Gujarat, it cannot be invoked in any other state. “The Gujarat government has failed in its responsibility to save the people. The Constitution has provided for the imposition of President’s rule if law and order fails in a state. The condition in Gujarat is even worse,” he said.

Accusing the Narendra Modi government of creating a Dalit-Muslim divide in Gujarat, Paswan said his party would mobilise the two communities to fight communal forces.

Paswan said the BJP resorted to such tactics after its debacle in the recent polls. “But they should know that the reason for their debacle lies in their anti-poor and anti-Dalit policies and not in the politics of religion,” he added.


Bettiah, May 12: 
The Rabri Devi government has decided to cross swords with scions of royal families, taking its wilting land reforms crusade to West Champaran district in the north.

Recently, the district administration in West Champaran invited the wrath of former royal families by settling 60 cases of land disputes and wresting control of 3,000 acres of excess land from them. While 1,000 more cases are pending for decades, the excess land has been distributed to 4,200 families, mostly Dalits and backwards.

The legal wrangles had helped the scions retain control over vast lands, making a mockery of the reforms. “The affluence of the royalty in the north is inversely proportional to the growing hopelessness of the Dalits,” said a senior minister in the Rabri government.

Some of the affected scions, who allegedly own 500 to 6,000 acres, include those of Ramnagar and Bettiah and Ranvijay Shahi, the owner of Dumaria estate. They have accused the state government of resorting to illegal means to wrest the lands and distribute them among “their own caste support base”.

But according to judgments passed so far by district-level courts, landlords in the district used fraudulent means to keep large tracts of land in their possession.

In the Ranvijay Shahi vs State of Bihar case, the additional district magistrate’s court observed that Shahi had claimed to have transferred 300 acres to 54 persons, but could only present 13 of the beneficiaries.

Besides, the court said, Shahi gifted a land deed to his three-year-old sister. In another case, the scion claimed to have sold 32.92 acres to his minor daughter.

The court observed that it was “beyond the imagination of any sane person to believe that a father would even think of selling anything to his five-year-old baby. How could the baby have made any payment?”

Another landowner caught in the land reforms net is Jayanti Shah who was slapped with a case for owning 988.74 acre of excess land. The district magistrate’s court in West Champaran has ordered the surrender of land that came under an agricultural society Shah had set up to “circumvent the provisions of the Land Ceiling Act of 1961”.

The landlords have alleged that the district administration wrongly classified their property, clubbing together residential and agricultural lands, to hurriedly distribute them among the government’s supporters.

Nevertheless, lack of proper land reforms is believed to be the cause of social tension in Champaran. About 70 per cent of the people in the district live below the poverty line, 90 per cent of whom are Dalits and backward castes. Most of the landless serve as farmhands for landowners.


Chennai, May 12: 
As the ADMK in Tamil Nadu completes a year in office, it has been a period of mixed fortunes for the party boss and chief minister, Jayalalithaa.

Despite her reputation as a hard-nosed politician and a relentless fighter, Jayalalithaa appears rather calm and uncomplaining while leading her government into its second year.

Sworn in chief minister for the second time in March this year after her triumphant court battles and a comfortable win in the Andipatti byelection, Jayalalithaa discovered her troubles were far from over.

The Tansi land deal cases continued to hang over her head like Damocles’ sword — the Supreme Court will begin hearing appeals against the Madras High Court acquittal in July.

Moreover, the bureaucracy decided to take it easy, encouraged by the series of corruption cases filed by the previous DMK regime and the prevailing cash-strapped environment.

With development schemes not hitting the fast track as she would have liked them, Jayalalithaa was compelled to express her frustration.

“I am forced to again crack the whip to get work done from the bureaucracy, which had been utterly demoralised by the previous DMK regime,” she candidly observed in the Assembly recently.

Adding to her anxiety was the desperate need for cash — Jayalalithaa requested a one-time assistance of Rs 3,000 crore from the Centre for Tamil Nadu to clean up its balance sheet this year.

Soon after Amma assumed the gaddi at Fort St. George for the second time, analysts predicted that political stability had returned to the state, ending a five-month drift under the chief ministership of O. Panneerselvam.

Catapulted to power after the Supreme Court struck down Jayalalithaa’s earlier appointment as chief minister on September 21, Panneerselvam had gracefully managed the transition as “a stop-gap CM”.

Under these circumstances, Jayalalithaa began to be a little more pro-active with the BJP heading the NDA at the Centre, while continuing to maintain political equidistance from the Hindutva forces and the secular Congress.

Jayalalithaa found herself making politically correct noises vis-à-vis the Centre. In the aftermath of the Gujarat communal carnage, she condemned the violence but stopped short of demanding Narendra Modi’s ouster.

“It is not proper for a state chief minister to call for the dismissal of another chief minister,” she reasoned, though she stoutly opposed the Centre on any move to legitimise the banned LTTE.

While the ADMK’s neutral position regarding the Parliament vote on Gujarat had drawn considerable flak from some quarters, party MP Saroja dismissed speculation that the ADMK was eyeing an opportunity to enter the NDA and take the DMK’s place. Yet, Amma is keeping her political options open.

She has boldly unveiled a package of fiscal, economic and administrative reforms, taking a leaf from the erstwhile Narasimha Rao regime, which used the 1991-92 fiscal crisis to launch the economic reforms.


Chennai, May 12: 
Merger talks between the Tamil Maanila Congress (TMC) and its parent party entered the final phase today as Congress emissaries Ramesh Chennithala and Oscar Fernandes held discussions with members of both parties.

After meeting TMC president G.K. Vasan, AICC secretary Chennithala said the talks were on track and that the merger would strengthen the Congress in Tamil Nadu.

Vasan confirmed that the parleys had entered the “final phase”, meaning that both sides were discussing the terms of the merger.

However, Vasan maintained that no pre-condition had been set.

Chennithala and Fernandes, who first met state Congress chief E.V.K.S. Elangovan, also met other party functionaries, including district presidents.

Besides party MLAs, Chennithala met former Congress chief M.P. Subramaniam, who represents the influential backward Vanniyar lobby in the party, and former Union minister M. Arunachalam, a Dalit leader who was close to the late TMC chief, G.K. Moopanar.


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