Seat slash order to colleges
Murmurs behind Buddha war cry
Vaiko victory lap in Jaya’s captivity
Yatra to camp on eve of rath
Crack at chemical warfare agent
After US, sensor offer from Russia
Gay army attack on AIDS apartheid
Killer disease stalks Jarawas
Ethics debate erupts over life-saving Viagra
Calcutta Weather

Calcutta, July 11: 
Smack in the middle of the season of admissions, Calcutta University has told colleges affiliated to it to sharply cut the number of seats.

The pro vice-chancellor of academics, Suranjan Das, has issued a circular to over 200 colleges instructing them to limit the number of admissions at the undergraduate level to 150 for non-laboratory based pass courses.

For honours courses and those that require laboratory work, the number is even smaller and will be worked out based on the infrastructure available at each college.

The trend, so far, has been for colleges to admit about 400 to 500 students in each pass course. The new regulation comes into effect for the forthcoming academic session, admissions for which have already started.

“For us it has been a very practical decision,” said Das. “Quality is suffering as the Central government is not willing to sponsor any new teaching posts. So, undergraduate colleges will have to cut back on the number of students they admit. Besides, it is also time for many colleges to improve the quality of teaching so that students, fewer in number, can avail of the best education possible. Without this they cannot compete in the present job market.”

It is “extremely important” for the university to reduce admissions as the workload is increasing every year with the ever-rising number of examinees at the undergraduate level, Das said.

“If the university is interested in academic excellence and wants to ensure timely publication of results, the number of students should not be allowed to increase by leaps and bounds,” he added.

This, in effect, means that only students at the high end of the scoring scale will get admission and the rest will have to either opt for other universities or join vocational courses. “There are many other options for students who do not make it to the undergraduate courses at Calcutta University,” Das said. “As in the West, vocational courses may be more suited for students not entirely inclined towards academics.”

Aware of the political pressure that can mount on the admission process, a “safety catch” has been included in the circular: in “exceptional” cases, a college may admit more students than permitted, but only with the permission of the university. Principals have been warned not to bow to political pressure.

“This (restricted admission) was necessary,” higher education minister Satyasadhan Chakraborty said.

“Without proper infrastructure, state-aided colleges had been admitting innumerable students and lowering academic standards. I am happy that Calcutta University has finally been able to take such a step.”

The CPM-affiliated Students’ Federation of India met Das and requested him to keep the decision in abeyance. It has now decided to launch an agitation from next week.


Calcutta, July 11: 
Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee today asked police to step up the offensive against the People’s War as it had plans to kill important CPM leaders, but a jarring note was struck by a section of the party seeking to put brakes on the police action.

Bhattacharjee said the CPM saw in the Naxalite group’s violence-laced politics an attempt to thrust Bengal back into the era of annihilation and chaos that marked the late sixties and early seventies. Therefore, there was no question of going slow on the crackdown, he said.

In the Assembly, the Left Front pledged support to the campaign against the guerrillas, who shot dead a CPM leader and his guard two days ago in retaliation to the arrests of four persons for alleged People’s War links.

Front chairman Biman Bose, who left for Mumbai today en route to the UK, was scathing in his criticism of the anti-campaign lobby.

“I want to ask the critics one question: why are they not protesting the involvement of certain people, who regard themselves intellectuals, in plotting the murders of CPM functionaries? One thing is definite — neither the CPM nor the Front will stand in the way of smooth police investigation,” he said.

But the chief minister, aware that the Naxalite crackdown, the arrests of university teacher Kaushik Ganguly and three others and the death of a Central government officer had become a sensitive issue, trod cautiously.

“I am helpless,” he said in the Assembly when the Opposition Congress, the Trinamul Congress and others sought to force the government into a corner. “No matter what you say, I cannot ask the police not to investigate these hardcore leaders who had planned to eliminate CPM leaders in the districts of Bankura and Purulia,” he said.

Outside, an influential section of the CPM’s Dum Dum unit staged a protest to force the government to withdraw its campaign. Dum Dum is a CPM bastion where Ganguly and Tinku Ghosh, both in police custody, and Abhijit Sinha, the suspected People’s War sympathiser who killed himself, have their homes.

The protest was organised by Paltu Dasgupta, a powerful member of the CPM’s fractious North 24-Parganas district secretariat, and his colleagues. They tried to whip up passions of partymen by talking about links between the CPM and the families of Ganguly, Ghosh and Sinha.

Dasgupta has called a protest meet on Saturday.


Chennai, July 11: 
Vaiko flashed the “thumbs up” sign and his characteristic smile as he was arrested on arrival at Chennai airport and driven away to Madurai for judicial remand.

The detention of the staunch NDA ally brought to a dramatic finale the first crackdown under the Prevention of Terrorism Act by the Jayalalithaa regime.

As he was escorted into a huge Eicher police van parked near the exit gate of the Chennai domestic airport at 5.20 pm, Vaiko appeared to be lapping up the national attention his arrest has drawn. He is the first MP to be booked under the anti-terror law.

Returning to Chennai from the US via Mumbai, the MDMK leader was informed by Madurai district superintendent Ayush Mani Tiwari and Thirumangalam DSP, Karnan, of the non-bailable arrest warrant issued against him and shown the paper just as he stepped out of the terminal around 5.15 pm.

Vaiko, who had to skip the connecting Air-India flight from Mumbai to Chennai earlier this afternoon due to an “engineering snag”, arrived here by a Jet Airways domestic flight and was closeted with wife Renuka Devi and son Durai Vaiyapuri for some time in the VIP lounge. His mother was not allowed in.

After the meeting with family members and in the presence of two Central MDMK ministers, G. Ramachandran and M. Kannappan, the police formally informed the MDMK leader of his arrest. Home ministry officials in New Delhi were relieved that the ministers did not create a fuss during the arrest, thus saving the Centre a confrontation with the Jayalalitha regime.

Vaiko is the last of the nine accused in the case, all of them MDMK functionaries, to be arrested for openly supporting the LTTE. He had delivered a speech at a public meeting in Thirumangalam near Madurai on June 29, parts of which “posed a threat to national sovereignty”.

Vaiko will be remanded either at Thirumangalam or at Madurai well past midnight tonight, as it would take at least seven hours by road to reach the temple city from Chennai.

Jayalalithaa denied the MP a hero’s welcome by taking nearly 3,000 of his partymen into preventive custody. But as lensmen and television crew whirred around for a photo-op, Vaiko vowed to “continue with his party’s struggle against the fascist Jayalalithaa regime without seeking the help of the Centre”. “We will not rest until we dislodge the Jayalalitha regime with people’s power,” he thundered. Vaiko described his arrest as a classic case of “misuse of the anti-terror law” for political ends.

The BJP condemned Vaiko’s arrest, calling it unwarranted.


Ahmedabad, July 11: 
Jubedabibi Usmani is scared. For the second time in less than six months, she is too scared to stay home. So she has decided to shift to a relief camp, three sons and their families in tow.

The first time the 75-year-old from Naroda put up at the Sundaramnagar camp was during the Godhra flare-up, when Gujarat burnt and bled for nights without end. The second time she moved in was three days ago, terrified of what might happen during tomorrow’s rath yatra.

On the eve of the yatra, the fear in the air is palpable, almost crackling. There are reports that mischief-mongers are moving around quietly, distributing firearms. Having seen and faced the worst during the February 27 riots, the minorities are not willing to sit tight and turn sitting ducks this time around.

Along with Jubedabibi, scores of Muslims living in areas along the 14-km rath yatra route have zeroed in on relief camps as places safer than home. Almost 50 families, who returned from the government shelters only three weeks ago, have gone back.

Aslambhai Dawoodbhai, a resident of Deepnagar who returned home on June 20 after a four-month stint at the Sundaramnagar camp, is also back, with wife and three kids.

“I’m scared. But I’m not the only one who is scared. Actually, everybody is apprehensive about the rath yatra. Anything can happen tomorrow, given the history of Ahmedabad. Having seen the worst carnage in my 33 years, I do not want to take any chances. So I’m temporarily here,” he says.

The fear psychosis has not spared the law-keepers either. Top police officers are keeping their fingers crossed because they have intelligence about a possible flare-up.

There are reports that about 200 firearms have already been distributed. With people due to join the yatra from almost 70 different spots, any trivial incident or even a rumour could spark trouble.

Even those untouched by Godhra are not taking any chances. “Not a single stone was thrown at us during the February communal disturbances,” says Safibhai Memon, a resident of Sir Adamji Memon Society in Dani Limda area. “But this time about six families have moved out of the city to put up with their relatives.”

Memon says he is being flooded with phone calls from worried relatives in Baroda, Idar, Bhavnagar and Himantnagar. “Everyone is apprehensive there like all of us. Those who have been calling me are complaining about inadequate security arrangement in their areas,” he says.

Top police officers, however, said adequate arrangements had been made to ensure the yatra passes off peacefully. About 75 companies of additional forces of the RAF, the BSF and the state reserve police have been deployed, city police commissioner K.R. Kaushik said. The police have also put up about 60 hoardings across the city, appealing to people to maintain peace and amity.


New Delhi, July 11: 
Defence researchers in India are on the trail of an antidote to one of the oldest, but still much-feared, chemical warfare agents that made its debut on World War I battlefields 85 years ago.

Scientists at the Defence Research Development Establishment, Gwalior, have identified a chemical that they say might emerge as the world’s first effective antidote to the highly toxic agent, sulphur mustard.

The scientists have acquired a US patent on the chemical, codenamed DRDE07 and described as “a new and effective” antidote to sulphur mustard, an agent first used by Germany in 1917. Other countries have used it in at least three 20th century wars.

But senior defence scientists cautioned that although the claim is based on extensive tests on laboratory mice, it could take another three years of research to develop a drug approved for human use.

Though nerve agents are more lethal and fast, sulphur mustard is still an “ideal” chemical warfare agent because it is relatively easy to manufacture and it affects the skin, eyes, and lungs. It also persists in the environment, forcing decontamination of battlefields.

Sulphur mustard causes intractable blisters on the skin, destroys the lungs, and turns the corneas opaque. The systemic ingestion of sulphur mustard leads to symptoms of nuclear radiation exposure.

Although several antidotes to the deadly agent have been developed in other countries, DRDE scientists say they are primarily protective agents for use before exposure.

“There is no drug yet that is an effective post-exposure antidote,” said R.V. Swamy, chief controller, research and development, at the Defence Research Development Organisation, New Delhi.

The existing antidotes can only be administered intravenously and, therefore, are unsuitable for rapid self- administration, a requisite on the battlefield. Studies on mice indicate that DRDE07 could be an effective oral antidote.

The patent covers a process to obtain 99-per cent pure DRDE07. The project team includes D.K. Jaiswal, Uma Joshi, Syed Raza, P. Kumar, and R. Vijayaraghavan.

DRDE07 was first synthesised by researchers abroad, but was never investigated for possible use as an antidote to chemical warfare agents.

The work on an antidote to sulphur mustard is part of an ongoing DRDO effort to help Indian soldiers protect themselves from nuclear, biological and chemical (NBC) attacks.

At least five DRDO labs have been involved in the NBC defensive systems programme since its launch a decade ago.

They have released an array of 26 NBC relevant technologies, including nuclear radiation and chemical sensors, bodysuits, gas masks, decontamination kits and shelters against NBC attacks.


New Delhi, July 11: 
Following in the footsteps of the US, Russia has offered India sensors and other equipment to check infiltration across the Line of Control into Jammu and Kashmir.

Though Moscow has already made the offer informally, it is likely to be raised again at the Joint Working Group meeting of India and Russia on Afghanistan beginning in Delhi next week.

Israel and Britain have also offered India sensors to man its border with Pakistan, particularly across the LoC.

The strong relations with India notwithstanding, the Russians are aware that in the face of competition from the US on the sensors to man the borders, they don’t stand much of a chance. But Moscow is trying to be a serious contender by offering Delhi equipment at a much cheaper rate and easier terms of loan.

The Indian leadership has been assessing the offers made to it by different countries and will take a decision only when the standoff with Pakistan is broken and temperature in South Asia is lowered considerably.

Russian deputy foreign minister Vaschily Trubnikov will lead the delegation from Moscow for the two-day working group meeting between July 17 and 18. Foreign secretary Kanwal Sibal will lead the Indian side.

This will be the fourth round of meeting of the group on Afghanistan since it was set up during Russian President Vladimir Putin’s visit to India in October 2000.

Trubnikov is also scheduled to meet foreign minister Yashwant Sinha and national security adviser Brajesh Mishra. He may also call on deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani.

One of the main focuses of the group will be terrorism and how the two sides can co-ordinate better to fight the menace.

The two are also thinking of setting up a similar group on counter-terrorism, but indications suggest that it will only be formally announced during the Russian President’s scheduled visit to India at the year-end.

Next week’s meeting will give the two sides an opportunity to exchange views on the recent developments in Afghanistan, the extent to which the al Qaida network has been destroyed by US troops and terrorist activities in Jammu and Kashmir and Chechnya.

On Afghanistan, the two sides are likely to discuss projects in hydel power generation, construction of bridges and roads, mobile hospitals and warehouses — sectors where the two sides can pool in resources and work jointly to execute them.

India will explain its stand on the military standoff with Pakistan and stress on the Pervez Musharraf regime’s failure to stop infiltration and highlight the new terrorist camps that have sprung up in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir in the past few months.

It will also clarify why no further de-escalatory measures were possible unless Pakistan showed positive signs of acting against the terrorists.

Russia, on its part, will share its experience in dealing with the terrorists in Chechnya and the two sides may also compare notes on the al Qaida members active in the region and the terrorist camps still in operation in South Asia.

As Moscow has started playing an active role in defusing the crisis in the region, Indian leaders feel it will be useful to keep the Russians apprised of what Musharraf has been promising to the world and the ground situation in Jammu and Kashmir, to pile pressure on Islamabad.

Russia and India have been working closely with each other on Afghanistan for several years, particularly when the Taliban regime was in Kabul. The two countries and Iran were trying to prop up the Northern Alliance, the only pocket of resistance against the student-militia.

In the new Afghan administration, the Northern Alliance’s clout has been considerably reduced, though its members still hold the two important portfolios of defence and foreign affairs.


Barcelona, July 11: 
Act Up is the official disrupter of AIDS conferences. This US-based, originally gay group, AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power, has been as raucous, militant and thereby media-grabbing at the international AIDS conference as they have been at other such meets since they erupted in full fury at San Francisco in 1990. Yesterday, their demonstrations were the noisiest and most destructive yet.

First, they held a rally against Coca-Cola. The backdrop was a 25-feet inflatable Coke bottle with the slogan: “Coke’s Neglect Death for Workers in Africa: AIDS Treatment Now. End Medical Apartheid.”

They proceeded to puncture it with needles, amid hoots, claps, whistles and ululating. Their “people’s court” found CEO Douglas Daft guilty of discriminatory medical treatment. Daft, ironically, is a corporate sponsor of the Global Business Coalition on HIV/AIDS.

The protest was against what Act Up considers Coca-Cola’s doublespeak on workers welfare. It refuses to extend its promised “comprehensive anti-HIV treatment” to its vast workforce outside the US.

It has provided this expensive anti-retroviral treatment only to its 1,500 direct employees, a minuscule number compared to the 98,000 employed at Coke’s affiliated companies, major bottling, canning and distributing enterprises, many owned in whole or part by the US giant, in Africa. AIDS has struck almost 25 per cent of the population in the worst affected Sub-Saharan countries. Coca-Cola is the largest private employer on this continent.

Next, they stormed the cavernous exhibition hall containing the stands of pharma companies and those of governments. Delegates perusing literature and consuming with greater enthusiasm free coffee (and giveaway bags, clocks and mugs) stopped on their tracks, and then made a discreet retreat as the Act Up army — followed by a phalanx of TV crew and other mediapersons — invaded the place.

Their target today was not the pharma giants but the stalls of G8 countries, the US, Japan, Germany, the UK, France, Italy, Canada and Spain. They tore down promotional material and overturned counters to plaster the booths with the query “Where is the 10 billion?”

The reference was to the Global Fund set up last year at the Genoa summit on the initiative of UN secretary general Kofi Annan to fight AIDS, TB and malaria.

The target was a corpus of $10 billion but only $2 billion have been pledged so far. Act Up says the Fund’s coffers have been almost emptied in the first round of disbursements made earlier this year (of which India, incidentally, got $0).

In the past year, 3 million have died of AIDS. If the trend is not reversed, by 2015, 100 million will be infected, of whom 95 million are likely to die because of lack of treatment.

Act Up places the responsibility squarely on the rich nations to bear responsibility for the 22 million AIDS deaths to date. And they “must immediately pay the additional $10 billion needed for the global war against AIDS”.


New Delhi, July 11: 
A survey by the Indian Council for Medical Research has revealed an alarmingly high prevalence of the killer infection, hepatitis-B, among Jarawas — the indigenous people from the Andaman and Nicobar islands.

“This is the first study of its kind on the Jarawas. We are not able to say what led to such a large number of hepatitis-B cases,” said S.C. Sehgal, the director of the Regional Medical Research Centre in Port Blair.

Last month, a nine-member team went to Jarawa settlements to look into the health status of the tribe members.

The report submitted to the Union health ministry, however, does not read too well. It points to a large number of cases with acute lower respiratory tract infections, which account for a significant proportion of morbidity and mortality.

However, unlike in many other remote parts of the country, Jarawas do not suffer from severe malnourishment. “None of the children examined showed glaring nutritional deficiency. These observations lead us to believe that there is no need for any short-term resettlement of the Jarawas on grounds of health or nutrition,” says the report.

But what has perplexed members of the visiting team most is the spiralling number of hepatitis-B cases and the possible sources of infection. “In the absence of the use of injections, which are the usual modes of transmitting the hepatitis-B infection, it is important to determine the route of transmission of the infection,” the report says.

The team also did not find tattooing — common in the tribe — a possible conduit of infection.

“Ultrasound examination on 10 people showed no features of chronic liver disease. Therefore, an alternative explanation for hepato-splenomegaly, such as malaria, could be considered,” the report says.

Recently, the Union health ministry launched a nation-wide immunisation programme against hepatitis-B, beginning as a pilot project in 13 districts and including the Andaman and Nicobar Islands.

While hepatitis-B, like AIDS, travels mostly through contact with body fluids — through sexual intercourse or blood transfusion — according to doctors at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, the infection could also spread through common combs, razors and bed sheets.


Kochi, July 11: 
Viagra, the wonder drug for erectile dysfunction, is now the centre of a controversy on medical ethics with a private hospital in Kerala using it as a life-saving measure on newborns with breathing problems.

In the thick of the controversy are the Amrita Institute of Medical Science and Research Centre (AIMS) and Dr P.K. Rajiv, head of the hospital’s neo-natal (newborn) care unit.

AIMS is one of the biggest private hospitals in the state set up by a trust headed by the spiritual leader, Mata Amritananda Mayi.

Rajiv used Viagra to treat three newborns with pulmonary hypertension. While this unorthodox treatment did save the lives of the children, he and his institute are now being accused of having experimented without seeking necessary permission from concerned authorities.

The Viagra experiment has evoked tremendous public interest against the backdrop of the recent controversy over improper and unauthorised medical trials at the Regional Cancer Centre (RCC) in Thiruvananthapuram.

However, Rajiv said the treatment has already been recommended in UK as a form of therapy on adults as early as last year and was not at all dangerous. He also said that Viagra was used on the two newborns after all other treatments had failed.

Rajiv is certain that his action will be vindicated by the larger medical fraternity and those who monitor the ethical dimensions of medical treatment.

Public relations officials of the institute pointed out that they would be writing to the Drugs Controller General of India, New Delhi, “seeking further guidance to use the drug”.

They also said that, unlike the RCC experiment, the treatment was not administered as part of any clinical trial programme but as an emergency life-saving measure.

When contacted, state drug controller Venkatakrishanan said “no permission from his department was required to conduct trials as it was only involved in the manufacture and sale of drugs.

As far as clinical trials were concerned, Drugs Controller of India was the authority from whom permission has to be taken. Asked if he would be ordering any probe, he said: “I am not competent to enquire into it.”

As the controversy continues to throw up opinions for and against the move, Rajiv said he had detected the life-saving properties of Viagra through constant research and that it was much cheaper than the treatment recommended by conventional therapy.

Rajiv said he had come across the use of Viagra — Sildenafil Citrate — to treat pulmonary hypertension in adults and a few on its possible use in infants while surfing the Internet. He remembered this when the first baby, who was barely a few hours old, was brought to him suffering from severe breathing problems. The newborn had turned blue because of oxygen starvation and did not respond to standard therapy.

The child was put under the conventional ventilator and a high-frequency ventilator but these failed to bring up the level of oxygen in its blood. In such situations, conventional therapy recommends the infusion of Nitric Oxide through the ventilator or putting the newborn to a heart-lung machine.

Rajiv claims these methods would have been redundant and expensive — Nitric Oxide comes at Rs 300 per hour and the treatment by the heart-lung machine costs thousands, while Viagra comes at Rs 25 per tablet.

Whatever the final verdict on these arguments, Kerala is still abuzz with arguments and counter-arguments about whether the hospital should have taken such a decision on its own.




Maximum: 37.6°C (+6)
Minimum: 29.1°C (+3)


0.2 mm

Relative humidity

Maximum: 87%,
Minimum: 58%


Sunrise: 5.03 am
Sunset: 6.22 pm
Cloudy sky, with one or two spells of rain or thundershowers

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