NGOs gain toehold in teacher training
Trinamul sows, Congress reaps
Chance rescue from nightclub
Hitmen with cars and cash
Unemployed rally against private tuition
Tight-fisted state spoils hostel appetite
Bofors backfires on CBI
Down the barrel, dead end lurks
Public role plea for TV rights
Thakur, Maneka harden stance on animal labs

Calcutta, June 10: 
Taking a small but significant step towards privatisation of primary education, the government today amended the West Bengal Primary Education Act, 1973, to allow approved NGOs to train primary schoolteachers.

With the Assembly today passing the West Bengal Primary Education (Amendment) Bill, NGOs will now be able to set up institutes to train aspiring primary schoolteachers. However, only a handful of Opposition members were present when school education minister Kanti Biswas placed the Bill for discussion.

Following the amendment that grants it more powers, the West Bengal Board of Primary Education can now grant recognition to private teachers’ training institutes. There are already 58 such institutes run by the government. The board will be able to regulate the functioning of the institutes and conduct examinations.

Though Biswas did not say it in as many words, the decision to allow NGOs to train the teachers springs from the fact that lack of funds does not allow the government to underwrite the cost of training teachers.

“The amendment will give an opportunity to primary schools to recruit more trained teachers,” said Biswas.

Till this year, candidates aspiring for teaching jobs in any of the 52,381 state-aided primary schools were required to be trained by existing state-controlled institutes. At present, there are some 1,81,000 teachers working in state-aided primary schools.

Though the state-funded primary schools depend entirely on government funds to pay the teachers’ salaries, the government decided to permit NGOs to run the training courses for teachers in view of the large demand for seats at the existing government-run training institutes.

A qualification from the training institutes is considered a bonus during the school recruitment tests.

According to education officials, the current lot of training institutes are not enough to accommodate the large number of applicants every year. Financial crisis also prevents the government from opening more such institutes.

According to an official in the state education department, the existing training institutes run by the government have the capacity to accommodate a maximum of 110 candidates. But each of the institutes receives more than 1,500 applications before the beginning of a session every year.

The proposed institutes will be entirely funded by the NGOs and the government will not bear any expenses.

The duration of the training course is one year and Madhyamik is the minimum qualification to begin the course.

However, Opposition MLAs criticised the government for allowing the NGOs to run the training institutes.

Kalyan Banerjee of the Trinamul Congress said the government should not have allowed NGOs to run such institutes as it would be difficult to maintain control over their standards.

Banerjee also pointed out that the West Bengal Primary Education Act was meant for matters related to education at the primary level and that the running of teachers’ training institutes should be kept out of the Act’s purview.

The government also passed the Rabindra Mukta Vidyalaya (Amendment) Bill, 2002, in the Assembly.


Calcutta, June 10: 
A day after the Trinamul Congress decided to rock the Assembly over the distress sale of paddy, the Congress sprung a surprise by bringing an adjournment motion on the issue.

However, Speaker Hashim Abdul Halim admitted the motion, tabled by Congress MLA Abdul Mannan, for discussion without interrupting other business matters of the day.

Trinamul MLAs lost an opportunity to push for a vote on the issue after a debate as they walked out in the second half, demanding that chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee give a reply. Congress legislators, too, walked out soon after.

Leader of the Opposition Pankaj Banerjee had told Trinamul legislators at a meeting last night to protest in the Assembly over the issues the party had called a bandh on Friday.

The issues included distress sale of paddy, increased power tariff, delay in the payment of teachers’ salaries and the government’s failure to publish an accurate list of those living below the poverty line.

The Trinamul MLAs today shouted slogans in the Assembly lobby, demanding that paddy be procured at remunerative prices and the dismissal of minister of state for transport Narayan Biswas, who has several criminal cases pending against him.

Inside the House, an MLA had a banner draped around him that criticised the Madhyamik board for issuing certificates with wrong dates.

When the Speaker allowed the Congress-sponsored adjournment motion for discussion, the party needed at least 30 MLAs to support it. Trinamul members, however, did not back the motion and the Congress approached the SUCI and the GNLF for support. The party finally received the backing of 31 legislators, including its own, so that the motion could be discussed.

There were few members on the treasury benches and a message had to be sent to Writers’ Buildings for more ministers to be present in the House.

During the motion, finance minister Asim Dasgupta said the government would procure paddy through cooperatives to ensure that the farmers were paid the stipulated procurement rate of Rs 530 per quintal.

The finance minister added that the funds to procure paddy would be arranged through cooperative banks.

The finance minister said as a long-term measure, the government would stress the need to keep paddy production at 130 lakh tonnes to meet the state’s requirements while encouraging farmers to diversify into producing wheat, oil seeds and pulses.


Calcutta, June 10: 
A chance meeting with a neighbour helped a Murshidabad teenager to escape a Mumbai nightclub.

Police said Mainul Sheikh, 35, rescued his neighbour’s 16-year-old daughter from the nightclub and reached Murshidabad on Sunday night.

According to deputy inspector general of police, Murshidabad, D.P. Tarenia, investigations have revealed that Montu Sheikh and Amit Sheikh of Talgram in Bharatpur police station area had tried to lure the girl with a job in Mumbai, which she refused. Montu and Amit then kidnapped her on May 13 and took her to Mumbai.

They sold the teenager to a nightclub owner in Bandra for Rs 15,000. The girl claimed that she was gang-raped by Amit, Montu and their friends in Mumbai before being handed over to the nightclub owner.

The girl told the police that she was forced to dance at the club and entertain customers for a fee. She lived along with eight other girls while four men kept a watch on them.

In the first week of June, the girl met her neighbour and goldsmith, Mainul, at a market. After hearing her ordeal, Mainul decided to rescue her by posing as a customer at the nightclub.

He sought the girl’s company for the night and they then left the city on the first available train.


Asansol, June 10: 
Two hitmen from Jharkhand, their local contact and a drug lord were arrested here last night.

Three pipe-guns, ammunition, three luxury cars, two motorcycles, more than 1 kg of brown sugar and fixed deposit certificates worth Rs 40 lakh were also recovered.

District superintendent of police B.N. Ramesh today said the two hitmen from Jharkhand — Sasaram-based Vinod Kumar and Amod Kumar — were contracted to kill Ayodhya Chowhan alias Lalli, the drug lord of the colliery belt.

Following statements given by the two hitmen, Chowhan was arrested this morning. He was picked up from the residence of one of his employees at Chitra. Santosh Bhagat, the local contact who had given shelter to the hired killers, was also arrested.

Three cars, two motorcycles and fixed deposit certificates were recovered from Chowhan’s possession.

After Chowhan’s confession, the police raided the home of one of his relatives and recovered 1.2 kg of brown sugar.

Chowhan used to control the narcotic trade in the eastern region and was linked to an international drug trafficking racket, the police said.

“Vinod and Amod are members of a notorious inter-state gang and are wanted by Jharkhand police in connection with several cases, including two bank dacoities and a businessman’s abduction. They had conspired to kill Chowhan this morning and the blueprint was finalised in the house of their local agent, Bhagat, yesterday night. We spoiled their plan and have arrested all of them,” said Debojyoti Saha, officer-in-charge of Asansol South police station.

During interrogation, Vinod and Amod revealed that they were hired by Rahul Sharma of Sasaram, an arms dealer and owner of a country liquor brewery. Sharma wanted to kill Chowhan because of a dispute over money. Vinod confessed that they would have got Rs 40,000 for the murder.

Security along the Bengal-Jharkhand border has been beefed up following the arrests. The district administration is concerned over the vulnerability of the Asansol-Raniganj-Durgapur colliery belt to inter-state gangs.

Officials said 10 gangsters of Jharkhand and Bihar were arrested last month from the colliery belt and a large quantity of arms were also recovered.

“The problem is that local residents give shelter to the gangsters. We have identified some such persons and are watching their activities.” said the police superintendent.


Malda, June 10: 
Unemployed youths here have formed a forum to launch a district-wide movement against private tuition.

More than 100 youths have joined the Sikshya Jagaran Mancha to protest against those teachers who still give tuition despite giving a declaration against offering any to the government.

The forum has prepared a list of teachers who are coaching students and has submitted it to the district inspector of schools, Uday Bhowmik.

Last week, the youths had also submitted a memorandum to the district inspector, demanding his intervention to stop private coaching by the schoolteachers.

The district inspector assured the forum members that he would discuss the matter with school headmasters and take effective steps.

“If any teacher is found giving private tuition despite the government order and submission of declaration, he should face the wrath of the government,” Bhowmik said.

According to forum spokesman Samir Das, many teachers in the district are still offering tuition.

Even as the administration and political parties wait and watch, teachers have found novel ways to dodge the government order.

Some teachers use their wives or children as a front for their coaching classes. During inspection, a teacher can then claim that his family members offer tuition.

Teachers also ensure that the students themselves provide a cover. If questioned, the students claim that they are offered free tuition.

Another way out is to offer question paper suggestions and notes for a price, avoiding tuition altogether. For instance, Mathematics notes are offered for Rs 3,000, History for Rs 2,500 and Life Sciences for Rs 2,800.

“If we become vocal against teachers who offer private coaching, the future of our children will be ruined. If we do not engage the teachers, they will give poor marks and may not even promote a student. We are forced to employ schoolteachers despite financial problems,’’ said a guardian of a student of Bansbari High School.

According to another guardian, there are a number of recent graduates who can offer tuition.

“We know that our children will do well if we keep them as tutors. But we will then face the teachers’ wrath,” he said on condition of anonymity.

“We have submitted a list of teachers who offer tuition, including the fees charged and the place of tuition. The district inspector has assured us that he will take action by June 18. If nothing is done, then we shall adopt our next course of action, including gherao of teachers’ house who offer tuition,’’ said forum leader Das.


Murshidabad, June 10: 
Interested in a plate of biryani for Rs 5? And getting it served hot and piping just like it has been for the past 177 years?

Incredible but true at a time when a plate of mutton biryani in most places costs not less than Rs 30. But students at Nizamat Hostel of Murshidabad’s Nawab Bahadur Institute have been getting the impossible ever since the government took over the responsibility to fund the schools attached with it.

The meal is offered every Saturday at 10 am when the hostel bell chimes to remind the students of the 177-year-old tradition. Students immediately wash their hands, make a queue in the hall and take their places in front of the plates.

The preparation begins much earlier at 7 am by the hostel chef, helped by sweepers and other staff members — there’s no money to employ more accomplished hands. The chef cooks what no Bengal does: preparing a plate of biryani complete with two large chunks of mutton, a potato and unlimited helpings of rice that costs the diner Rs 5.

According to hostel authorities, however, if one takes into account the paltry amount of Rs 20 that the government spends on each student everyday, the cost would be less than Rs 5.

The Rs 20 is supposed to cover all the student’s needs — from his toothpaste, soap to his meals, four per day, including the Saturday’s biryani.

“The price at which we arrange for the biryani every Saturday will definitely come to less than Rs 5 if all the other expenses are taken into consideration,” said hostel superintendent and Nawab Bahadur Institute teacher Syed Reza Ali.

The Nawab Bahadur Institute was set up in 1825 as the Nawab Madarsa by Nawab Humayun Jha. But 177 years ago, its doors were open only for the children of the nawab’s family.

The Nizamat School was added to the madarsa in 1854 by Nawab Feradun Jha and the school accepted students irrespective of class distinctions.

The British government took over both the institutions in 1919 and amalgamated them into Nawab Bahadur Institute. It also took charge of the boarders and control over the institute’s funds which, in 1837, amounted to more than Rs 2 crore.

The school has two other hostels — separate ones for Hindus and Muslims — but the biryani is reserved only for the fortunate boarders and teachers at Nizamat Hostel.

The biryani tradition, however, may not continue for many more years, given the meagre amount the hostel gets for its students.

“The food served is of an unimaginably low standard,” said Walim Bahadur, a student. But the students don’t blame the authorities; they admitted knowing that their teachers could not arrange much more at Rs 20.

The penury has affected everything — from the standard of food to the condition of the library — in the heritage institution. A rare collection of books, including Abul Fazal’s hand-written Ain-e-Akbari and some Shakespearean manuscripts, has not seen a librarian since 1979.

But students and teachers say they are no less concerned about the unique tradition of the weekend biryani. “We need at least Rs 50 for a student’s daily expenses if we have to maintain some standard,” said headmaster Dulal Krishna Dhar.

“But we are having to do with the Rs-20 allowance,” he added, before admitting that the tradition could wind up soon if the government did not pay immediate attention to the school’s problems.


New Delhi, June 10: 
Delhi High Court today quashed the CBI chargesheet against the three high-profile Hinduja brothers in the Bofors case, bringing it almost to a halt.

A single-judge bench of Justice R.S. Sodhi said in its 32-page judgment that the chargesheet was “half-baked” and virtually indicted the CBI of being “under a cloud”.

The judge upbraided the premier investigating agency of the country, saying: “The CBI must not drag its feet or file half-baked chargesheets when high and mighty are involved especially when in power, also it should not file frivolous cases against the innocent at the behest of those in power. I cannot be unmindful of the fact that the CBI has been under a cloud.

“It (CBI) has been accused of being a political shield or a whip of the government of the day.”

“The constitution and working of the investigating agencies revealed lacuna in its inability to perform whenever powerful persons are involved. For this reason, a closer examination of constitution of these agencies and their control assumed significance according to the Supreme Court,” the judge said, referring to the Vineet Narain case in which the apex court set guidelines for the functioning of the investigating agencies.

Sodhi said the CBI should have submitted its findings to the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) as per the Supreme Court guidelines in the Vineet Narain case to avoid “frivolous” and “half-baked” chargesheets being filed.

In the Bofors case against the Hindujas, this was not done. But the judge clarified that fresh chargesheets could be filed against the Hindujas.

CBI sources said an appeal against the high court order would be preferred in the Supreme Court and the legal consequences were being discussed inter-departmentally.

In the wake of today’s judgment, two consequences are most likely: an appeal in the upreme Court against the high court order quashing charges against the Hinduja brothers and filing a fresh chargesheet.

The latter would mean an admission on the part of the CBI that a “half-baked” chargesheet was filed in the case.

The judge said the CBI on its own showing “has not placed before the CVC the results of its investigation and has by-passed it by filing a chargesheet”.

The judge did not spare the vigilance commission either. It has “abdicated its functions, which it was obliged to perform under the directives of the Supreme Court”, he said.

The judge clarified that an earlier condition of the apex court for the bail of the Hindujas would continue and it would depend on the accused to move court to modify the conditions or nullify them as the charges against them were quashed. A high court cannot modify an apex court order and it is for the accused to move the apex court.

The judge also made it clear that the “prosecution would be free to file a fresh chargesheet, if advised, after following the procedure laid down by the Supreme Court in the Vineet Narain case”.

Sodhi also told the government: “It would be also open to the prosecution/ government to consider the feasibility of carrying on with this case in view of the circumstances and in accordance with law.”

CBI spokesman S.M. Khan said the agency would take the case to the Supreme Court.

“We will be going to the Supreme Court. We are looking into the court’s judgment carefully,” he said.

Khan said the Hindujas still could not leave the country together in line with a Supreme Court order in August 2001 that said all three brothers could not go abroad at the same time.

“No, they can’t (leave the country together). The high court has said that the restrictions imposed by the Supreme Court on their bail will continue,” the spokesman said.

The apex court had said Geneva-based Prakashchand Hinduja could leave India on providing a bank guarantee, but rejected the plea of Srichand and Gopichand to go out together, saying one of them had to remain in the country.


New Delhi, June 10: 
The quashing of charges against the Hinduja brothers — Srichand, Gopichand and Prakashchand — by Delhi High Court has virtually stalled the Bofors case, which had unseated the Rajiv Gandhi government in 1989.

Justice R.L. Sodhi has even suggested to the Centre to go into the “feasibility” of carrying on with the case.

Two of the key accused have died during the pendancy of the trial — alleged middleman in the gun deal Wisheshwar Nath Chaddha alias Win Chaddha and former defence secretary S.K. Bhatnagar. The two passed away last year. Extradition proceedings against Italian businessman Ottavio Quattrocchi and A/B Bofors’ former chief Martin Ardbo are still pending and it might take years to come to a decision.

The Swiss government has made it clear that Ardbo will not be sent for trial in India as under Swiss laws an accused has to be tried in Switzerland. Further, M/S A.B. Bofors itself has folded up and one of its parts has merged with another firm in these days of coalitions and acquisitions.

The main accused, former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, too, died more than a decade back and the CBI chargesheet says “he is not being sent up to trial”, though it names him as an accused. After 12 years of investigation, the case has not even seen proper trial proceedings.

Now, the charges against the Hindujas have been quashed as well.

The counsel for the Hindujas, former Union law minister Ram Jethmalani and R.K. Anand, argued that “not only (should) the cases against the Hinduja brothers be quashed but also the cases against the other accused in the light of the fact that the main accused (Rajiv Gandhi) had died”.

Sodhi pointed out that the Hindujas’ counsel had contended that “even the earlier chargesheet against the deceased Prime Minister (Rajiv), defence secretary S.K. Bhatnagar (since deceased) and Win Chaddha (since deceased), Ottavio Quattrocchi, Martin Ardbo (both of whom have not yet been extradited) and A.B. Bofors should also be quashed”.

“Even they are entitled to the benefit of the Supreme Court judgment as the two chargesheets have been clubbed by the order of the trial court,” the judge pointed out. In their cases, too, the CBI had not sent the investigation report to the Central Vigilance Commission before filing the chargesheet.

The never-ending Bofors saga is now staring at a dead end, notwithstanding the possibility of a fresh chargesheet.


New Delhi, June 10: 
Prasar Bharati’s efforts to leverage its status as a “public broadcaster” and claim terrestrial telecasting rights for major sports events is unlikely to wash well with the government, but the information and broadcasting ministry is not rejecting it outright.

Last week, Prasar Bharati’s directors decided to request the government to empower Doordarshan to claim terrestrial rights for major national and international sports events. The request was made after the national broadcaster lost rights to telecast popular events, most recently World Cup soccer.

“We have to strike a fine balance,” one official said. “While it is generally the policy of the government not to intervene too much in the television market, it is equally true that the public broadcaster has a role to perform.” Prasar Bharati CEO K.S. Sarma said: “We are not saying that we want the rights free of cost. There can be a revenue sharing arrangement, which will need to be discussed case-to-case.”

But the dynamics of the television market in India simply cannot allow a terrestrial broadcaster such a right because it can make pay channels desperate. Besides, there will be major events that will not generate enough revenue.

Doordarshan officials know this only too well because that is the primary reason the broadcaster is unable to telecast live all matches of the French Open tennis tournament. Doordarshan’s Metro channel (which is both terrestrial and satellite) did telecast the semi-finals and the finals live, though.

“It is very simple,” one official said. “Advertisers just do not find French Open tennis a good enough vehicle when World Cup soccer is on. Besides, there are a number of events slated for later in the year for which advertisers will wait. Cricket is the main moneyspinner — the India-England series is coming up and so is the ICC trophy — that’s where most of the money goes.”

Doordarshan is worried over not getting rights to telecast cricket matches in which India features. Doordarshan currently holds the rights to telecast matches hosted by the Board of Control for Cricket in India for five years from 2000. Cricket being the only sport (apart from chess) in which India can still make an international mark, Doordarshan’s inability to telecast matches will put a lot of pressure on Prasar Bharati.

It has lost the satellite rights for ICC and World Cup matches to Sony. Its negotiations for the terrestrial rights are also on the verge of breaking down. Like Ten Sports did with World Cup soccer, Sony is set to monopolise the cricket events by buying the terrestrial rights as well.

With Prasar Bharati not in a position to compete commercially, Doordarshan will have to rely on government clout if it has to show cricket.

Prasar Bharati will argue that public broadcasters in Australia and the UK have the authority for the terrestrial rights to big sporting events. Officials say a provision has also been made in the draft Convergence Bill, currently with a parliamentary committee.


New Delhi, June 10: 
Union health minister C.P. Thakur today snubbed his colleague Maneka Gandhi by staying away from the first-ever national seminar on the state of animal houses in India organised by the minister of state for statistics and programme implementation.

The Committee for the Purpose of Control and Supervision of Experiments on Animals, headed by Maneka, had sent an invitation to the health ministry to attend the seminar. Thakur, it is believed, had instructed officials of his ministry not to attend as the matter had to be sorted out by the Prime Minister. However, sources close to Maneka said a representative of the Indian Council for Medical Research was present at the meeting.

Petitioned by laboratory authorities all over the country, Thakur last month had shot off a letter to the Prime Minister seeking his intervention in the issue. The health minister pleaded that Maneka had been impeding medical research by her “overzealous” drive to protect animals.

Maneka dug in her heels and organised a seminar where she repeated her strictures to a host of scientists and research authorities. “If not for ethics, not for compassion and equity, at least for sound science, we must have better managed animal houses,” she told the gathering.

Indicting research laboratories for their shoddy work, Maneka said: “I know of laboratories that have taken money to build new, better cages for animals. But no cages were built. Where has that money gone?”

The invitees — some of whom have been grumbling about being at Maneka’s receiving end — stuck to a safe line at the seminar. “We are meeting most of the guidelines. But there is scope for improvement,” they said. They placed their report cards before the minister, ticking off the achievements one by one.

Today’s seminar sent out a clear signal that Maneka was not retracting from her position and was ready to enter into a confrontation with the Union health minister. The health ministry, by staying away from the seminar, sent out an equally strong signal — that it was not budging from its stated position.

The committee has conducted more than 350 inspections of various institutions and laboratories throughout the country over the last two years.

In her inaugural address today, Maneka said: “In many of these places, the condition of the animals was frightening. Monkeys were suffering from skin diseases, missing limbs and paralysis. Many of them had been in cages for over 15 years.” The rooms were “filthy, airless, without electricity, unhygienic — animals were inbred, many had gaping wounds on them.”

The institutes facing flak have fallen back on a plea of lack of resources, a plea rejected outright by Maneka.


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