Teacher haemorrhage bleeds topper school
Tempers soar as power supply dips in districts
CAG sounds debt-trap alarm
Kamtapuris cry reform
Jute tangle leaves minister red-faced
Trinamul mercenaries in crime net
Bengal’s first IT scholarships
Master manipulator in Delhi’s Afghan plot
Statute scan for early poll in Gujarat
South Block office set for split

Siliguri, July 16: 
Parama Datta, second in Higher Secondary examination, 2002. Name of school: Siliguri Girls’ High School.

Sanctioned teaching posts in the school: 51. Number of vacancies: 12.

The two facts, for anyone uninitiated in the ways of the Darjeeling district inspector of school’s office, are unconnected. Insiders, however, would have you believe that one follows directly from the other, in a roundabout fashion, the fashion in which government offices work, away from media glare.

A girl from this school first broke the top-20 barrier in 1990 and, since the middle of the decade, the institution has been regularly finding a place on the merit lists of Madhyamik and HS examinations.

The ‘problems’, however, started soon after and have gradually peaked now — almost simultaneously with Parama’s feat — taking the form of “discreet requests” from a section of the staff of the district inspector’s office to “accommodate” some students.

There’s nothing very discreet about the reaction after those requests were turned down for paucity of space. The school has found out, to its chagrin, that its reminders to that office about the growing number of vacancies — resulting from retirement — have gone unheeded.

The result: unlike the other north Bengal school that gave this year’s Higher Secondary its first girl, success does not sit very easily on the Siliguri institution. There’s no brave word — expected after leading the infrastructurally better and more reputed schools of Calcutta and its suburbs on the merit list — and none of the we’ve-done-north-Bengal-proud sentiment in the run-down corridors of the school, though everyone is happy at the success of “their girl”.

“We are now functioning with a staff strength that is about 25 per cent lower than what we should have,” a senior school official said. He would not “officially” complain about the role of the district inspector’s office staff, but the school, nevertheless, has taken up the matter “repeatedly” with the authorities.

Not that anything has come out of it. The school now has nearly 2,300 students with 39 teachers and the Darjeeling district inspector’s officials say it will not get a new teacher till the student-teacher ratio reaches 80:1. With three more retirements coming up over the next year, the situation can only get worse, say teachers.

The school’s increasingly better results have created other problems. This year, 58 students have got star-marks in Madhyamik and the school has been forced to accept 51 students in the science stream, knowing well that the laboratories cannot accommodate more than 17 at a time. “We will divide them into three groups,” headmistress Kalyani Chakraborty said, but admitted that it would create a fresh problem: “The routine will go haywire.”

Not that it’s possible now to keep to the routine. “There are not enough classrooms and the geography teacher often waits for my philosophy class to be over before she can take her class,” Chakraborty regretted, pointing out how one room had been chopped up into four classrooms to accommodate a class-VIII section and three class-VI sections.

The board-created divisions have, in turn, created two more problems: no teacher can take her class without feeling guilty that she is disturbing her neighbour; and, on days with full attendance, girls who may go on to become HS toppers in a few years now have to stand and listen to the lectures.

There are other problems — all brought along by a severe funds crunch — like classrooms that can’t keep the water out during monsoon, a laboratory which saw the last bulk purchase in 1997, a library that sees very few additions every year and an ‘annual’ school magazine that is now brought out every three years.

“All our funds go to meet the cost of exams we hold regularly,” school managing committee secretary Tapas Kanti Basu said. “We can’t really compromise on this, can we?” he asked, helplessly.

Despite the brilliant results, the school’s claim to real fame lies elsewhere: producing an assembly line of girls who have gone on to become national table tennis champions. But here, too, it’s the same old story with the TT boards lying largely unused as the school can’t afford to keep a full-time coach.

With all the problems, the headmistress says the school can’t honestly claim a slice of the credit for Parama’s feat. “What do we give the girls — ill-equipped labs and cramped, leaking classrooms — to claim credit for their labours?” she asked.


Calcutta, July 16: 
The improvement in the power situation in the Bengal districts proved short-lived as supply plunged after a 500-mw National Thermal Power Corporation unit at Farakka collapsed following a mechanical fault hours after it was brought back to stream yesterday.

Severe power cuts plagued the districts through the day, sending tempers soaring. The shortfall in the state electricity board-served areas shot up to nearly 180 mw and prolonged periods of darkness were reported on Tuesday evening.

Last night, the deficit had reached nearly 280 mw. “The shortfall would have been more if the afternoon rains had not brought down the demand by about 140 mw,” said SEB chairman G.D. Gautama.

Angry CPM legislator and Citu leader Ranjit Kundu put up blocks at Naihati station along with 1,000 supporters for four hours from 7 am. He said he would take up the issue of chronic power cuts and faults in transmission lines and transformers in Bhatpara, Naihati, Jagaddal and Barrackpore with chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee and power minister Mrinal Banerjee.

In South 24-Parganas, large areas of Baruipur, Sonarpur, Falta, Kakdwip and Canning experienced widespread power cuts. Trinamul Congress MLAs from the districts, Arup Bhadra and Mantu Ram Pakhira, threatened to stage dharnas in front of the power minister’s office if the situation did not improve soon. Banerjee is on a visit to China.

State electricity board officials said in many places they were forced to activate isolation devices and resort to power cuts because of wild fluctuations in the frequency of power supply.

Gautama explained that NTPC’s recent decision to shut down units to restrict supply to the Bihar electricity board and Gridco of Orissa has led to severe fluctuations in frequency of power supply to the eastern grid. “We have to isolate our grid in the event of such frequency problems and resort to forced power cuts despite good generation by our own units,” he added.

At one point today, the frequency dipped to 48.1 Hz (cycles per second). The normal frequency is 49.5 Hz. If the frequency plummets below an accepted minimum, there is a possibility of the grid collapsing.

The NTPC had shut down three 500-mw units — two at Farakka and one at Talcher — last week to restrict supply to Bihar, which owes it about Rs 2,500 crore.

On Sunday, NTPC decided to resume supply after Rabri Devi’s commitment on payment of dues and brought back to stream one unit at Farakka. SEB officials said after deciding to call off its decision to restrict supply to Bihar, the NTPC had informed that it would bring back to stream one unit at Farakka.

“They did so yesterday and the unit collapsed. Two other units — one each at Farakka and Talcher — are yet to be lighted up. So we are back to square one in Bengal with wild fluctuations in the frequency and a heavy shortfall,” an official said.

As the three 500-mw NTPC units are out of operation, the Central sector power utility also drastically slashed its share of supply of power to Bengal and supplied about 220 mw less than the usual.


Calcutta, July 16: 
The report of the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) of India highlights the widening gap between revenues and expenditure as one of the key problems facing the West Bengal government.

The report on the performance of the government in 2000–2001 presents figures that indicate an impending debt trap for the state, if it is not already in one.

It reveals that while revenue expenditure was growing at an average rate of 22.6 per cent in the past five years, the growth in revenue receipt averaged just 15.3 per cent. The report indicates that in 2000–2001 the state was virtually living on borrowed money. The West Bengal government had resorted to ways and means advances and overdrafts ranging from Rs 7.64 crore to Rs 422.23 crore on 360 days out of 365.

Besides, the CAG report points out that the state has been relying heavily on borrowing even to bridge the longer-term mismatch in revenues and receipts. And this led the debt to state domestic product ratio rising from 0.30 per cent in 1996 to 0.38 per cent in 2001.

Referring to the poor tax compliance, the report adds: “A declining tax to gross state domestic product ratio showed that the state government preferred the option of borrowing to that of widening its tax base…”. The CAG report estimates that the total liabilities of the state government have grown by 156 per cent during the five-year period 1996–2001.

“The financial mess set in since mid-’80s and now it has reached a situation, where things are getting worse with every passing day. As per the last published comparable data on state finances, revenue deficit and fiscal deficit of 6.4 per cent and 9.1 per cent of net state domestic product for West Bengal are alarming. These are much higher than the average of 4 per cent and 6.7 per cent for all states,” said M. Govinda Rao, director, Institute for Social and Economic Change in Bangalore.

But the data in CAG report admits that the last year has seen a reversal of the trend. According to the data presented in the report, the revenue and fiscal deficits in 2000–2001 dropped by 18.36 per cent and 6.39 per cent over the previous year.

However, the report claims that the revenue deficit would have been “higher” in the absence of adjustment of “notional” interest receipts from the state electricity board without any “cash inflow” and rise in grants-in-aid and share of divisible taxes from the Central government.

The report hauls up the state government for spending just 5 per cent of the total expenditure under the capital expenditure head. “The future seems to be severe. Private sector activity will go down as the government is doing little to augment infrastructure,” observed Rao, who was the economic adviser to the ninth finance commission.

“Measures were suggested to stem the crisis, but the state government wants to score by kicking off a debate than setting its house in order. The government can avoid the impending crisis only by taking steps like freezing employment, hiving off loss-making units, introducing tax reforms and removing hidden subsidies,” he added.

The CAG report criticises the cash-strapped state government for its failure in settling terms and conditions for repayment of loans and advances. It states, “……while amounts advanced significantly increased, repayments declined steadily and became insignificant in recent years…”. Analysis of the loans and repayments by the auditors reveal that repayment as percentage of outstanding balance declined from 24.39 per cent in 1996 to 1.19 per cent in 2001.

The beneficiaries have been primarily the loss-making government outfits and out of the Rs 2109.33 crore advanced in 2000–2001, Rs 1882.10 crore was given to West Bengal State Electricity Board, The West Bengal Power Development Corporation Ltd, West Bengal Rural Energy Development Corporation Ltd, West Bengal Industrial Infrastructure Development Corporation and The Durgapur Projects Ltd.


Siliguri, July 16: 
Plagued by infighting, the Kamtapur People’s Party is looking inwards.

Instead of blaming others for its woes, the party leadership is trying hard to identify its “weak points” to make it more acceptable to the residents of north Bengal.

To start with, the party leadership has called for an amendment of its constitution. “We feel that our constitution needs to be modified. We also feel the need to make our organisation compact. It is much too loose,” KPP chief Atul Roy said.

The six-year-old party, which spearheaded a campaign for a separate state carved out of West Bengal for ethnic Rajbanshis, has lost some of its popular appeal, mainly because of a lack of direction. Roy and his comrades-in-arms are, however, determined to put the movement back on track.

Party insiders attributed the movement’s lack of direction to the absence of a “full-fledged” party constitution. As a result, the chain of command was not clearly defined. This helped create several “satraps” within the party.

“This is coming in the way now that we are preparing for the panchayat polls, to be held early next year,” a party leader said. The workers are unhappy that they were not properly designated, creating confusion among the rank and file about their authority.

Roy said it was not enough to propel the cadre just on the basis of the organisation’s “core ideology”. He said it was time for re-assessment of the problems plaguing the party.

His views were echoed by senior party colleague Indradev Burman. “We need to address these problems without further delay,” Burman said.


Calcutta, July 16: 
The penultimate day of the monsoon session will be remembered, if at all, for proceedings that left many in the treasury benches with red faces.

Agriculture marketing minister Chhaya Ghosh found herself at the receiving end of Speaker Hashim Abdul Halim’s barbs for refusing to answer a question on the pretext that it was not within the jurisdiction of her department though officials in her department had already prepared an answer and passed it on to the Assembly.

Congress MLA Abdul Mannan had queried her on the alleged low purchase of jute by the Jute Corporation of India that inconvenienced farmers as many were unable to get a proper price.

Ghosh stood up to say she would not answer, as it did not concern her department. Halim asked her why she had not intimated the alleged “oversight” earlier, to which Ghosh replied that she was hoping that a “senior MLA like Mannan” would realise his mistake.

But Mannan had the last laugh as Ghosh’s department had already submitted the written answer to his query.

The red-faced minister barely managed to mumble a reply that she would check with her department officials how the discrepancy occurred. The Speaker asked her to come back to the House after collecting the details.

Jute was at the centre of controversy again when questions brought forward by Trinamul Congress MLA Kashinath Mishra, held over from the last day, were held over again with the Speaker giving labour minister Mohammad Amin some time to mull over the exact number of bipartite and tripartite meetings he had held to get closed jute mills, like the Anglo-India Jute Mills Company, reopened.

Another issue that brought Opposition members to their feet was housing and public health engineering minister Gautam Deb’s supposed comment during his visit to Malda’s Bhutnir Char.

Trinamul MLA Sonali Guha asked whether Deb had asked the villagers to offer pantha boli (goat sacrifice) to goddess Kali and managed to get under the skin of ruling-front MLAs. Guha’s tirade — she asked the minister to apologise to the House — met with a matching response from the treasury benches.


Raina (Burdwan), July 16: 
Forsaken by their political godfathers and hounded out of their villages by their rivals, a large number of former Trinamul Congress supporters have turned to crime for a livelihood in this area at the trijunction of Burdwan, Bankura, and Midnapore.

“After being used by the Trinamul Congress leadership in its struggle against the CPM, we were left in the lurch. Driven out from my village, I raised a gang and began a life of looting,” confessed Kazem Ali who, along with four others, was arrested for dacoity.

Speaking at the police station here, Kazem spoke bitterly of the proximity he and his family once enjoyed with Trinamul leaders.

He was brought here from Khandakosh where he was arrested. There are eight charges of dacoity against Kazem.

Kazem is the nephew of Mohammed Rafiq, who was a key player in the Keshpur controversy. Trinamul had alleged that CPM workers went butchered their supporters in Rafiq’s house in Keshpur, Midnapore.

Kazem’s son Mujibur Rehman had ferried Trinamul Congress chief Mamata Banerjee on his two-wheeler to the much-covered Trinamul congregation at Midnapore’s Chamkaitala in July 2000. Mujibur was later murdered, allegedly by CPM supporters.

“I refused Rs 5,000 offered to me by the party. I have left my land and home at Radhakantapur and, to survive, I have turned to crime,” Kazem said.

Kazem’s case is not an exception. To highlight the plight of these on-the-run former political activists, Kazem said even his son-in-law, Sarekh, has formed a gang and has been robbing people in the three contiguous districts.

Burdwan police superintendent B.N. Ramesh said that for the police, these people were criminals. “We look after law and order and are not aware of their background. These people are basically criminals,” Ramesh said.

Even as Kazem and his ilk suffer the consequences of their brush with politics, the rival parties trade charges.

“The Trinamul Congress wanted to ingress into these belts riding piggyback on these criminals. It was our activists who have kept them on the run at the cost of their lives,” said Amiya Patra, the Bankura district secretary of the CPM.

On the other hand, Trinamul leader Gholam Jarjis said it was the CPM’s terror that led these people to crime. “Power lies with the CPM and even if we wish to do something we are not able to,” Gholam said.


Calcutta, July 16: 
Anandabazar Patrika and NIIT Ltd today announced the first scholarships in IT education in Bengal.

The Anandabazar Patrika-GNIIT Scholarships will award successful students fee waivers ranging from Rs 2,000 to Rs 20,000 in GNIIT and other NIIT long-term career programmes.

Candidates for the scholarships will be selected after a statewide competitive wri- tten test and a personal interview.

Prospective candidates can pick up application forms from the Anandabazar Patrika classified advertisement collection centres as well as NIIT education centres across the state. The test will be held on July 21, 2002.

NIIT offers programmes under its Futurz portal, which imparts training in software concepts, engineering and skills.

Students will be selected after a joint evaluation by NIIT and Anandabazar Patrika.

The final list of candidates selected for the scholarships will be published in the Anandabazar Patrika on July 23.


Washington, July 16: 
India’s post-September 11 policy towards Kabul is set to change subtly, but significantly, after a crucial meeting of the Indo-Russian Joint Working Group (JWG) on Afghanistan in New Delhi on Wednesday.

The change will reflect the new, realistic thinking in South Block that Afghanistan has received “too much emphasis with too little returns”, in the words of one of India’s top diplomats.

The resignation last week of S.K. Lambah, adviser on Afghanistan, is linked to such a policy shift and unrelated to ministerial changes in South Block.

In the changed scheme of things, India will not be content with playing second fiddle to Washington in dealing with Kabul.

The importance of Wednesday’s meeting can be gauged from the itinerary of Vyacheslav Trubnikov, who will head the Russian side. Although Trubnikov is only a deputy foreign minister, he has got appointments with deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani and national security adviser Brajesh Mishra.

India’s security establishment has a trusted friend in Trubnikov. A KGB agent in the Communist era, he was posted under cover as a Soviet journalist in New Delhi and later as a diplomat at the USSR embassy.

Later, on a posting in the US when doors used to be slammed shut in India’s face in America, Trubnikov compared notes with his Indian counterparts. Washington was then determined to eliminate India’s nuclear programme and put even peaceful uses of nuclear energy under international control.

Trubnikov recently proved that notwithstanding the metamorphosis of the KGB, he was still a master of manipulation.

After protracted talks with deputy secretary of state Richard Armitage here in February, Trubnikov extracted a promise from the Bush administration that the US would not seek to establish permanent military bases in Central Asia after the end of the war in Afghanistan.

The commitment was iterated publicly by Armitage in Moscow in April after another round of US-Russian talks led by the two men.

The Americans have a lot to thank Trubnikov for. After the terrorist attacks on September 11, it was to him that a confused Bush administration turned for expertise on Islamic terrorism.

Secretary of state Colin Powell and his Russian counterpart Igor Ivanov agreed to convene an emergency session of the US-Russian JWG on Afghanistan, which too is headed by Trubnikov.

In the transformed South Block, where officials are no longer mute spectators to political policy-making, tomorrow’s meeting is expected to be followed by pro-active policy of greater cooperation between Moscow and New Delhi.

This is not to say that the spotlight will no longer be on gifting the Afghan government more buses or even an Airbus aircraft.

But it will be backed up by steps to actively guard India’s security interests as in the days when President Burhanuddin Rabbani held power in Kabul and Pakistan was using its proxy, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, to advance Islamabad’s designs.


New Delhi, July 16: 
The Centre is veering round to the view that Gujarat should go in for snap polls after the rains instead of waiting till February 2003, when elections are scheduled.

The government, sources say, is looking for constitutional loopholes to see how soon the Assembly can be dissolved without inviting legal and constitutional strictures or political flak.

Even K.P.S. Gill had recently said early elections would restore normality in the riot-ravaged state. His statement raised the hackles of not just the Opposition but sections within the BJP which felt the chief minister’s former security adviser had overstepped his brief.

The poll panel has ruled out early elections and made it clear it alone has the authority to talk on the issue.

A majority of BJP leaders at the Centre seems to go along with Gill and believes that a snap poll may be “politically beneficial”. Their argument is the poll panel may be forced to call early elections because the Assembly has not had a single sitting since April 5.

BJP sources pointed out that the “rule” is if a legislature does not meet for six months at a stretch, it would be “automatically” dissolved. “Legislators who have not marked their attendance for six months continuously stand to lose their memberships,” they said.

Constitutional expert Subhash C. Kashyap contested the interpretation. He said while the provision is there should not be a gap of more than six months between two sittings, the statute is silent on what would follow if that happens. “However, a constitutional crisis can arise if the budget session is not held because without a budget, the government cannot spend a single paisa,” he added.

Yesterday, chief minister Narendra Modi gave the first clear indication that he might recommend dissolution of the Assembly any moment. Although sources had said he would do it immediately after the presidential polls, there has apparently been a rethink. Modi might dissolve the House after the vice-presidential election on August 12, the sources added.

Gujarat BJP sources say Modi would recommend dissolution as early as possible so that new state Congress president Shankersinh Vaghela does not have enough time to consolidate his position. Vaghela today replaced Amarsinh Chaudhary.

The sources said Vaghela, a former BJP leader who became chief minister after splitting the party, is Modi’s biggest challenge as he knows his strengths and weaknesses. In the nineties, Vaghela had outwitted Modi during his battle for supremacy against Keshubhai Patel, another former chief minister. Modi was Patel’s key manager.

Like Modi, he is a good orator, an aggressive leader, a strategist and is media savvy. A leader with mass appeal, he fits into Gujarat’s caste equations.

Another reason why the Centre may be thinking of early polls is because the BJP feels the “communal polarisation” it had supposedly achieved after the riots may not last long if other issues regarding governance take over. Gujarat is likely to face a severe drought this year and the BJP is keen on holding polls before its negative spin-offs are felt.


New Delhi, July 16: 
It’s the season of splits. After the proposal to carve up railway zones, a move is on to bifurcate the foreign office.

After nearly three decades, policy planners are thinking of separating the spokesperson’s office from that of external publicity in an attempt to keep pace with changing times and face its new challenges.

The possibility of Nirupama Rao, the foreign ministry spokesperson and joint secretary of the external publicity division, being promoted to additional secretary within a few weeks has added seriousness to the move.

South Block sources said the new foreign secretary, Kanwal Sibal, is keen on the bifurcation, though the suggestion to split the spokesperson’s office and the external publicity division has been doing the rounds for a while. Sibal, they added, is playing a pro-active role in sprucing up the ministry.

Till recently, there were talks that the spokesperson’s office and that of the external publicity division may be upgraded from the joint secretary’s level to that of additional secretary. If that happened, Rao could have continued in her present post.

But indications suggest that neither foreign minister Yashwant Sinha nor the foreign secretary is keen on that.

A search to find a replacement for Rao has, therefore, begun in earnest over the past few days.

There are two main contenders — Navtej Sarna and Gautam Mukhopadhyay. Both are from the 1980 batch of the Indian Foreign Service and are competent officers with ample exposure and experience to handle media and external publicity.

The two were promoted to joint secretary rank a few months ago. The name of Bhaswati Mukherjee, joint secretary (West Europe) in the foreign ministry, has also been doing the rounds. But going by signals from South Block, it could be either Sarna or Mukhopadhyay.

Sarna was till recently in the Indian embassy in Washington and was, among other things, in charge of handling the media and publicity. Mukhopadhyay had worked in the external publicity division in the mid-1990s as director and later worked in the Indian Permanent Mission office at the United Nations headquarters in New York.

The rationale behind the move to separate the spokesperson’s office from that of external publicity is to ensure that the former gets more time to concentrate on articulating the government’s views on foreign policy matters.

Similarly, the move entails giving more scope to the head of the external publicity division so that the official can focus on drawing up strategies to counter publicity and propaganda inimical to India’s interest.


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