Medical college regulator Bill casts cloud on CU
Fatal morning walk for BDO on highway
Mamata rigging slur on civic polls
Gill banks on people power in Godhra
Children die in shelling
Cong hunts for ‘something’
Murdoch sounds caution on channel choice
Air force waits for activation orders
Pressure to widen AIDS vaccine ambit
K3G faces the anthem music

 
 
MEDICAL COLLEGE REGULATOR BILL CASTS CLOUD ON CU 
 
 
BY BAPPA MAJUMDAR
 
Calcutta, May 26: 
The Left Front government’s plan to set up a new university to regulate medical education has put the University of Calcutta at odds with the state’s higher education department.

According to the provisions of the West Bengal University of Health Science Bill, to be tabled in the Assembly next month, the new university will oversee the Medical College Hospital, NRS Medical College and Hospital, Calcutta National Medical College and Hospital, R.G. Kar Medical College and Hospital and the Institute of Postgraduate Medical Education and Research among others.

However, the University of Calcutta and the CPM-controlled Indian Medical Association (Bengal chapter) have attacked the decision to deprive the varsity of its prestigious medical colleges. The university’s dean of medical faculty, Manoj Bhattacharya, felt that the move could be counter-productive for the state health-care system.

Officials of the higher education department admitted that there was a motive behind the government’s move. The proposed private medical colleges could face a similar dilemma like their engineering counterparts. Just as no university had wanted to take the responsibility for the new engineering colleges — set up in haste and with inadequate infrastructure — the private medical colleges, too, could face resistance from the universities of Calcutta, North Bengal and Burdwan.

Besides, the officials added, the universities did not have the infrastructure to take on more students and consequently correct more answer scripts.

On the other hand, while the university does not want to lose the medical colleges that are considered a feature in its cap, the officials of the Indian Medical Association — most of whom are at the end of their careers — don’t want to be associated with a university that will take time to build its reputation.

“The proposed university will be a flop,” medical faculty dean Bhattacharya said. “Similar health universities in other states have failed miserably and there is no guarantee that this one will be an exception.”

The Indian Medical Association (Bengal chapter) has pointed out that a provision in the Bill that only provides for nominated members in the regulatory body indicated that the CPM sought to take control of the health department.

“It is clear that those who are going to be nominated in the regulatory body will be CPM stooges,” Its president Subir Ganguly said. “Instead, members, should have been elected.”

The Indian Medical Association has also accused the government of going back on its promise to consult the body before drawing up the Bill. That, too, said the members, has been done with the intention of keeping the organisation — whose Calcutta chapter, unlike the Bengal chapter, is controlled by the Opposition parties — out of the decision-making process.

Despite criticism, the state machinery looks set to table the Bill next month. “We are going ahead with the Bill as the Assembly select committee has already cleared it,” said director of health services Prabhakar Chatterjee.

The medical body has also attacked a provision in the Bill which makes a teacher dependant on the government’s directive to join the new varsity.

“Why shouldn’t there be any choice for medical teachers who have put in so many years in the profession?” Ganguly asked, adding that the teachers were concerned about their future.

The principal of Medical College Hospital, Soumendranath Banerjee, admitted that he was not aware of the details. “I have heard about a plan to form a new health university. But as far as I know, none of the principals of the medical colleges has been made aware of what is happening,” he said.

   

 
 
FATAL MORNING WALK FOR BDO ON HIGHWAY 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, May 26: 
A joint block development officer of Ranaghat was killed and another person injured in a mishap on the accident-prone National Highway No. 34.

Pratul Ranjan Pal and his friend, Bijay Krishna, were knocked down by a speeding vehicle while they were on a morning walk.

The killer Tata Sumo tried to speed away but was chased by a patrol car for half a kilometre before the driver jumped from the vehicle and fled. The car has been towed to the Ranaghat police station.

The injured were taken to Ranaghat Hospital where Pal was declared dead. Krishna is said to be in a critical condition.

Police are trying to trace the car owner. “We are also ascertaining the destination of the killer vehicle,’’ said an official of Ranaghat police station.

Preliminary investigations have revealed that the tyres of the killer vehicle had no grip. Witnesses said the driver had braked, but the car skidded and turned a semi-circle before hitting Pal. They added that after knocking down the duo, the driver seemed to have panicked as he accelerated the car in a bid to escape.

The police said more casualties were avoided as the road was near-empty.

Local people alleged that the area was accident-prone. “There are no highway patrol cars to check rogue drivers. We had three accidents in the same place last week,” said Sanatan Hazra, a resident.

“We have been clamouring for a separate traffic police section and met senior police officials on the issue over the past year. Yet nothing has been done,’ said another resident, Milan Gupta.

According to the Ranaghat residents, many people take a morning walk along the highway. Police patrolling has been intensified along the National Highway No. 34 following the mishap.

In another incident, a police man was killed after a police mobile van overturned at STKK road in Katwa, Burdwan, on Saturday night.

   

 
 
MAMATA RIGGING SLUR ON CIVIC POLLS 
 
 
FROM OUR BUREAU
 
May 26: 
About 75 per cent voters exercised their franchise in today’s elections to six municipalities amid allegations of rigging by Trinamul Congress chief Mamata Banerjee.

Barring a few stray incidents of violence, the polling was peaceful. The results are expected to be announced on Tuesday. However, the results of byelections in the municipalities of Dum Dum, Budge Budge and Malda were announced tonight.

Officials said brisk polling was recorded in the morning hours in the municipality elections held in Durgapur, Nalhati, Dhupguri, Coopers’ Camp and Panskura as well as in three wards of Dum Dum.

Hours after the polls, Mamata alleged that the CPM cadre “terrorised” voters at several places in collusion with the administration. “I have information that even Congress supporters joined the CPM activists to rig the polls in some places,” she said.

In Malda’s English Bazar municipality, the Congress candidate was declared elected, defeating his nearest CPM rival. In ward 20 of the Budge Budge municipality, CPM candidate Bideswar Mal won by defeating Congress’ Fagu Majhi. The seat fell vacant following the murder of former municipality chairman Sailen Ghosh.

In Panskura, tension ran high after a polling officer handed over a fake voter to the police. However, senior officials brought the situation under control. Panskura is going to the polls for the first time after being declared a municipality.

   

 
 
GILL BANKS ON PEOPLE POWER IN GODHRA 
 
 
FROM BASANT RAWAT
 
Ahmedabad, May 26: 
Authorities in Godhra, where the carnage ghost came back to claim two more lives on Friday night, have decided to set up committees in sensitive localities to ensure that the violence did not recur.

The town has been peaceful with no fresh incident of violence reported since that night. Indefinite curfew continued to be in force across Godhra for the second day today.

But a man was stabbed to death in Ahmedabad yesterday, taking the toll in the renewed violence in the strife-torn state to three.

Unidentified assailants killed Lalit Kumar Mistry, 39, on Kalupur bridge in the curfew-bound area of the city and escaped under the cover of darkness.

Two persons were killed in police firing and nine injured after clashes erupted between two communities on Friday, forcing chief minister Narendra Modi’s security adviser K.P.S. Gill to rush for an “on the spot assessment of the situation’’.

It was Gill who suggested to the local authorities to set up mohalla committees and involve members from both communities in areas with a mixed population.

The committees will have five members from the majority and minority communities “who will work with police”. In case of any trouble, they will call the police and co-operate with them, said superintendent of police Raju Bhargav.

Earlier, Gill had met the district authorities and community leaders. He had asked the officials to “approach and handle the situation differently”.

The basic thrust of Gill’s suggestion was to involve the people, make them accountable and bring them into mainstream.

To begin with, he told the administration to set up the mohalla committees and “properly investigate” and find out the culprits behind the explosion on Friday that triggered the communal violence in the town.

The security adviser had also asked the officials to take “exemplary action” against those responsible for the fresh bout of violence in Godhra.

A day after Gill’s toughtalk, the district police chief today claimed to have secured “some leads” on the possible perpetrators of Friday’s violence.

“Right now, we are looking at which community was really responsible for precipitating the May 24 violence in the Zuharpura area of the city,” Bhargav said.

The superintendent, however, admitted that the police have so far failed to identify the people behind the blast.

They have also not been able to verify the registration number of the abandoned Ambassador which the miscreants had used, leading to suspicion that they had come from outside to create trouble.

“As of now, I can say we got some leads and further investigations are on,” Bhargav said.

Seven “most sensitive points’’ have been identified where the committees will be set up, the Godhra police chief said. “Hindu and Muslim leaders should voluntarily come forward for this purpose,’’ he added.

This will give the residents a chance to improve and refurbish the image of Godhra, which has become internationally infamous since the Sabarmati Express massacre on February 27, the officer said.

The security adviser also asked the civic administration to hold medical camps in the minority-dominated areas from where people could not move out for fear. Such camps, Gill said, will help bring the people back to the mainstream.

   

 
 
CHILDREN DIE IN SHELLING 
 
 
FROM MUKHTAR AHMAD
 
Srinagar, May 26: 
Five persons, including two children, were killed and eight wounded in heavy shelling by Pakistani troops in the R.S. Pora sector of Jammu last night.

Police sources said Pakistani troops shelled Chanduchak and Korotana villages last night and fired from small arms on these villages.

“The shelling and firing continued for several hours. Five persons, including two children, died in the heavy shelling,” said a police official, wishing anonymity.

The official said eight civilians in Korotana village were injured in the shelling.

The shelling triggered fresh panic among the villagers in the R.S. Pora sector and set off a fresh wave of migration to safer places, according to the sources.

Indian army troops indulged in retaliatory shelling of Pakistani positions last night. The exchanges continued till the wee hours of this morning.

The villagers have taken shelter in government school buildings in the safer areas near their villages.

Thousands of people have already started fleeing from villages in Ramgarh sector in Jammu. Official sources here said the villagers were fleeing in panic to nearby areas.

More than 12,000 people living along the border have migrated to safety following heavy shelling by Pakistan.

Pakistani troops also shelled Kargil, Batalik and Drass sectors late on Saturday. Police said the shelling continued for three hours, but no one was wounded.

A joint meeting of the district administration, the airport authority and security agencies in Budgam district discussed preventive measures to face any eventuality in areas around the heavily guarded Srinagar airport in the wake of the current tension along the Line of Control.

   

 
 
CONG HUNTS FOR ‘SOMETHING’ 
 
 
FROM RASHEED KIDWAI
 
New Delhi, May 26: 
The AICC session in Delhi may have been an image-booster for Sonia Gandhi, but the leadership has once again failed to address the basic problems plaguing the party.

The Congress president candidly told the AICC delegates that “something” needed to be done to revive the party in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Bengal and Tamil Nadu. But, as in Panchmarhi, Bangalore and Guwahati, she once again failed to spell out any programme to achieve that objective. Sonia merely promised to “spend more time” in Uttar Pradesh and “do something” for Bihar, Bengal and Tamil Nadu.

Delegates cutting across regions echoed the sentiment that the party should go it alone instead of opting for “rag-tag coalitions” to get into power. The official position, too, remained confused as the political resolution merely asked delegates to refer to the Bangalore resolution and the Panchmarhi declaration.

During the Panchmarhi session in September 1998, the Congress had underlined the primacy of single-party rule while opening a small widow for possible coalitions, saying: “It would consider coalitions wherever necessary without compromising the party’s policies and programmes.” At the Bangalore plenary in March 2001, the party leadership had come round to admitting coalitions had become part of the political system.

Victory in 14 states and several municipal corporations has once again tempted the Congress to revert back to its Panchmarhi position in which it stressed how single-party rule was important for growth, development and political stability. But many Congress leaders wonder if such a formulation would stand the test of time, pointing that Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Bengal and Tamil Nadu amounted to 202 Lok Sabha seats.

Similarly, the confusion over reforms continues. Though the party leadership accepted the irreversibility of economic reforms, it sought to dethrone reform guru Manmohan Singh and former Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao who had worked out a political consensus under which Singh could push through structural reforms.

The focus on according credit for reforms to Rajiv Gandhi baffled many delegates. They said Singh and Rao were often criticised for initiating reforms, resulting in the party’s poor electoral performance in 1996. “Should not we now blame Rajiv Gandhi for that?” said a Maharashtra delegate. Several party papers such as the Antony committee report had blamed Singh and Rao for initiating reforms, he added.

The AICC meet will also be remembered for its resolve to fight communal forces. Sonia announced the raising of an anti-communalism force to wage battle against the Sangh parivar. She named former matinee idol Sunil Dutt as the head of this force.

However, many delegates wondered if Dutt would be able to rise to the challenge because of his poor health. Some months ago, Dutt was made in-charge of frontal organisations such as the Youth Congress, the Sewa Dal, the Mahila Congress and the National Students Union of India. But within months, Sonia had to appoint Mukul Wasnik, as Dutt could not devote enough time and energy to revitalise them.

   

 
 
MURDOCH SOUNDS CAUTION ON CHANNEL CHOICE 
 
 
FROM SUBHRO SAHA
 
Hong Kong, May 26: 
At a time when the Union information and broadcasting ministry is making a spirited push for conditional access system — a technology that enables the viewer to pick the channels of his choice — a damper on the proposed system has come from a pace-setter in the Indian satellite television industry.

STAR, which boasts 39 of the top 50 shows on Indian satellite television and reaches out to “80 per cent of cable homes” in the country, feels that the Indian industry is not ready to embrace CAS yet and that a move to bulldoze the system through might backfire.

“It seems that somebody has described CAS to the Indian government as something of a magic bullet, which it isn’t. You have got to separate the technology from the legislation and its practical implementations. The technology is important for transparency and protecting copyrights and we are not against it in principle. But India is not fully geared to adopt CAS across its length and breadth at this point,” James R. Murdoch, chairman and chief executive officer, STAR Group Limited, said here.

Murdoch, addressing a group of Indian scribes at the STAR Harbour Front headquarters, warned against hasty implementation of the addressability system, for which, information and broadcasting minister Sushma Swaraj has made a strong pitch. The Bill now awaits the Rajya Sabha’s nod.

Calling for an “open and frank debate” on the issue, the STAR chief, spelling out the group’s position on CAS for the first time, said the practical path is to let the market decide when it is ready for addressability.

“We’ve been working on it for sometime now and we are ready ourselves. But, trying to rush the technology could kill the golden goose and reverse the phenomenal growth Indian cable television has seen since it kicked off,” he cautioned.

“The practical access for all consumers to CAS is a vastly complex issue wherein many factors need to be focused on. Apart from the sheer logistics in involving 44 million cable homes, there are huge start-up expenses involved and it is still unclear as to who will foot the bill,” Murdoch said. “Besides, the set-top boxes are not enough to ensure transparency. That can only be done through a free and frank debate, which the government should encourage,” he added.

STAR officials have also stressed the need to improve ties between the multi-system operator (MSO) and the actual viewer for CAS to succeed. “It’s the last mile which is the grey area and neither the broadcaster nor the MSO has any control on this final stretch ruled by operators,” smiled STAR Group president and chief operating officer Bruce B. Churchill.

Sharing Murdoch’s concern over a hasty implementation of CAS, Churchill observed: “The government can be a very beneficial force by inviting a threadbare dialogue on ground distribution, logistics and all the structural issues that can obstruct growth. Let the market decide when and how they want CAS.”

Murdoch himself felt consumers shouldn’t be forced to buy set-top boxes and operators not dictated on how to mould their basic or premium tiers. “While certain markets are almost ready and it shouldn’t take long to introduce addressability in those segments, other vast areas remain totally under-prepared and unsure of the new tech. Preparing and educating those areas is important,” he said.

Admitting it was necessary to establish direct contact with the consumers and have “better control over the last mile”, the STAR chief said the group will decide on direct-to-home service in India “once the regulatory environment clears a little.”

STAR, which launched its first pay channel in India in 1994 and achieved a full pay migration in 1998, is keen to keep its pole position in India. “There is a huge opportunity for TV-based services in India where the dominant infotainment choice is multi-channel television. Our future strategies are geared to tap this potential,” smiled Murdoch.

   

 
 
AIR FORCE WAITS FOR ACTIVATION ORDERS 
 
 
FROM GAJINDER SINGH
 
Chandigarh, May 26: 
With the Indian Air Force cancelling the leave of all its personnel, the crucial defence wing is now waiting for “activation” orders from the defence ministry.

“Activation” orders for the air force would mean total war preparedness for the crucial defence wing. So far, only the army and the navy have received such orders.

Western Command sources here said the air force, which had so far not been holding sorties in forward areas, has been asked to stand by and prepare aircraft to enable them to become airborne in less than 10 minutes. The order was passed on Friday.

The national domestic carrier and private airlines have also been asked to be prepared to suspend services to Chandigarh, Jammu, Srinagar, Leh and Amritsar in the event of largescale hostilities breaking out with Pakistan. Most of these cities have airports whose runway is shared by both civilian airlines as well as the air force.

That the air force is waiting for the final “activation” can be gauged by reports of air traffic personnel moving out of the towers to locations on the runway in most of the forward bases.

While ATC officials said the move was “precautionary”, sources said it signified the highest alert for the defence wing. “All we are now waiting for is the activation order to start sorties near the frontier,” an air force officer said on condition of anonymity.

Western Command sources said the air force had so far not been “activated”, leading to the belief that the country was not heading for war.

“The army cannot move into Pakistan without air support,” a senior officer said, adding that air support would play a crucial role in any war with Pakistan.

Chandigarh airport, which houses transport aircraft to ferry supplies to troops in Ladakh and other forward areas in Jammu and Kashmir, has literally been handed over to a battalion of the Territorial Army to foil sabotage attempts.

Anti-aircraft batteries have also been placed at vantage points along the runway. Army officers claim Chandigarh could become one of the main targets of Pakistan in case of war.

Western Command sources said activation orders for the air force are always the last to be issued. “The order is one step away from declaration of war. An aircraft can overshoot the Line of Control or the International Border unintentionally, get shot down and trigger war. That is why the air force has not been activated till now. The moment it is done, it is a signal to both the army and the navy that war is inevitable. It has not happened so far,” a senior officer said.

   

 
 
PRESSURE TO WIDEN AIDS VACCINE AMBIT 
 
 
FROM MONOBINA GUPTA
 
New Delhi, May 26: 
A lobby of medical researchers here wants the government to widen the scope of the proposed AIDS vaccine by producing a multi-grade vaccine.

For the time being, the government has decided to produce a single-strain AIDS vaccine to counter the infection type most widely prevalent in India — type C. It accounts for almost 91 per cent of the HIV infection in India.

Barely three per cent of the country’s HIV population has the B type infection. However, in the Northeast, type B accounts for 20 per cent of the HIV incidence.

“At present, most of the research in the West on AIDS vaccine is aimed at countering the B type of infection. No multinational is going to produce the C-type vaccine,” said Indian Council for Medical Research (ICMR) director general N.K. Ganguly.

The Government of India recently signed an agreement with the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative (IAVI), officially launching the exercise of producing an AIDS vaccine.

AIDS vaccines have an efficacy of about 50 per cent but they are expected to reduce the infection load and improve the quality of life of an HIV patient.

Though the health ministry has announced the decision to confine itself to producing just the C-type vaccine, a section of authorities in medical research believes that India should think of the future and aim for producing a multi-grade vaccine.

“India has all the facilities ready for such a project. We have complete information on the sub-types — a chain of research institutions needed for monitoring the project,” Ganguly said.

The ICMR is a signatory to the agreement with the IAVI.

It is, however, to be seen whether those pushing for a multi-grade AIDS vaccine eventually succeed in getting the government to adopt a wider policy. If there is a strong lobby advocating the use of AIDS vaccine, there is also an equally strong lobby cautioning the government on its use and drawing the attention of policymakers to issues of ethics and human rights.

The government has gone out of its way to assure its commitment to these issues. A national ethics committee will preside over every stage of the human trial phase, said National AIDS Control Organisation director J.V. Prasada Rao.

But Ganguly points out that the human trial will be conducted among a small group of 20 people. “These will be normal volunteers,” said the ICMR director general.

The second phase of human trial will involve a study on the vaccine’s efficacy. Volunteers will be selected randomly from clinics treating patients with sexually transmitted diseases.

There is widespread scepticism about how successful the government will be in making the vaccine acceptable to a society that is still fighting shy of the disease.

Recognising the social barriers that could bog down the project, the IAVI, in its fact sheet, said: “HIV infection is still greatly stigmatised, so extensive outreach efforts may be necessary to build both policymaker and public support for the vaccination.”

The ICMR and other organisations have carried out behavioural studies on AIDS to minimise the extent of the social stigma. Most vaccines are primarily administered to infants and small children.

The AIDS vaccine, however, will target an entirely different category of population — adolescents, sexually active adults, sex workers, drug addicts sharing needles and other high-risk groups.

   

 
 
K3G FACES THE ANTHEM MUSIC 
 
 
FROM SUCHANDANA GUPTA
 
Bhopal, May 26: 
Shyam Narayan Chouksey is standing up for the national anthem.

He has launched a satyagraha to awaken citizens to their responsibility of honouring Jana gana mana and resist its commercial misuse by Bollywood.

The 62-year-old retired engineer of the Central Warehousing Corporation has moved Madhya Pradesh High Court against the use of the national anthem in the recent Hindi blockbuster, Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham.

Admitting his public interest litigation on May 8, a bench of Justices S.K. Kulshresht and Ajit Singh issued notices to the Union home ministry, the ministry of information and broadcasting, the Central Board of Film Certification, producer Yash Johar and director Karan Johar.

The court has asked the Centre and certification board to explain why picturisation of the national anthem in the film was not banned. The respondents have been directed to appear in court in the last week of June.

Chouksey’s crusade began one evening in January, when he went to watch the movie. When the scene with the anthem came, he went from seat to seat pleading with the viewers to stand up. But not a soul stirred. Instead, he faced the crowd’s ire.

“The film had just been released and the hall with over a thousand seats was packed to capacity. When the national anthem scene came, I did not know what to do. I thought it would be one or two lines. When the entire anthem was being played, I stood up.” “Some ladies sitting behind me started objecting. ‘Sit down, you are obstructing our view,’ they said,” he added.

After a 10-day dharna, Chouksey had had enough. In the last week of January, he met the district police superintendent and he DGP. They saw his point and issued orders to theatres showing the film that action will be taken if viewers do not stand up. But most seats still remained occupied.

Chouksey started a satyagraha in front of cinema halls, moving from one district to another. By March, as the film was moving out of the halls, Chouksey felt the urge to raise the issue seriously before another film repeated the “same strategy of misusing an Indian symbol to rake in money”.

On March 20, he filed a public interest litigation at the high court in Jabalpur. “PILs are such a common phenomenon nowadays that the court takes time to scan each one of them and decide which one actually makes it to the court rooms,” Chouksey said, explaining the delay.

Article 51(a) of the Constitution states it is every citizen’s duty “to abide by the Constitution and respect its ideals and institutions, the national flag and the national anthem”. The Government of India’s executive orders relating to the national anthem does not allow commercial use of it.

Chouksey’s petition argues that the anthem was misused for a commercial purpose. “Why couldn’t they make a patriotic song of their own? There are so many in the films — Dil diya hai jaan bhi denge, Meri desh ki dharti sona ugle, Aab ke baras tujhe dharti ki rani.... Why misuse the national anthem?” Chouksey asked.

   
 

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