Railway collision in House
Mao’s strategy at work in reverse
Banned tuition lifeline when govt breaks law
Modi melts Vajpayee, but not monsoon
Success secret: rain & alumni
Experts see rain in dry forecast
Atal faces drought fire
1600 years on, pillar’s rusty secret cracked
Rehearsal in air grounds Kerala film team
Calcutta Weather

New Delhi, July 18: 
Inter-state tempers ran high in Parliament today after railway minister Nitish Kumar declared that the bifurcation of Eastern Railway would come into effect from October 1, triggering a war of words that saw a Bihar MP threatening to disrupt Bengal trains passing through his state.

Kumar’s refusal to clarify whether the bifurcation decision would be put on hold until a Cabinet reconsideration pitted the Trinamul Congress and the Left against the Samata Party and the Rashtriya Janata Dal.

The Cabinet, which met this evening, did not take up the issue, putting Trinamul leader Mamata Banerjee back on collision course with the Centre. Mamata has called a meeting of party MPs tomorrow.

An explosive element was added to the confrontation when the RJD’s Raghuvansh Prasad Singh said trains bound for or emanating from Bengal would not be allowed to cross Bihar, if the move to create a new zone in Hajipur was blocked.

“Agitation in Hajipur has already started. No trains either emanating from West Bengal or going there will be allowed to pass through Bihar, if the new zone is not allowed to be set up,” Singh said. As the threat brought Mamata and the rest of the MPs from Bengal to their feet, a BJP member from Uttar Pradesh lobbed a counter-threat at the Bihar group.

Gorakhpur MP Yogi Adityanath, whose constituency stands to lose if the railway presses ahead with the division of zones, said trains passing through Uttar Pradesh will not be allowed to enter Bihar. “You can threaten West Bengal, not UP,” he told Singh.

Mamata intervened to say that Singh had used unparliamentary language and that his remarks should be expunged. Mamata, supported by Left members, warned that the plan to carve railway zones could divide the entire country.

Another Bihar MP, Raghunath Jha, said if the opponents did not relent, Bihar and Jharkhand would demand the headquarters of Coal India and the Damodar Valley Corporation from Bengal.

Mamata attacked Kumar for his statement during question hour that the new zone would become operational from October. The Trinamul leader, who had been trying to win back the railway portfolio, alleged that “some people were playing a dirty game to bifurcate the Eastern Railway zone on the basis of political vendetta”.


Calcutta, July 18: 
Gazing into the future, the People’s War finds that the road to revolution now lies through small towns.

In a complete turnaround from Mao’s strategy of encircling cities with villages — in the sixties it encouraged Naxalites to spawn the slogan Gram diye shahar ghero — the People’s War has decided to use urban regions in the vicinity of “liberated areas and guerrilla zones” as the launch pad for its war against the state.

Documents circulated in the party, and recovered by the administration, indicate the importance of urban areas — and “students and teachers” to form “armed defence squads” after giving them “special training” — in the People’s War scheme of things.

The plans, say officials, seem to have been replicated in the party’s efforts to wean away teachers and students from mainstream politics and proved by the arrests of so many of them (Kaushik Ganguly, a teacher at Rajabazar Science College, is just one name, the officials emphasise) in the recent crackdown.

The resolution on “Strategy and Tactics” accepted at the party’s last congress, they add, appears to have been given “concrete shape” in Calcutta and urban areas encircling West Midnapore’s villages.

The strategy, say officials, is two-fold. One, target “students and teachers”, taking advantage of the intense “atmosphere of disorder”, and build up “a vast network of secret party units with the advanced section of the working class”; and two, focus on “special training” for “armed defence squads… to implement armed action and mete out punishments”.

Although the People’s War students’ wing, the Revolutionary Students’ Association, is not very strong in urban areas — save some pockets in south Bengal — the youth wing (the Revolutionary Youth League) has built up a base in line with the instructions.

But it is the focus on armed defence squads in towns and villages — many Salboni and Jhargram villages already have “village protection forces” comprising entirely of villagers with minimum outside help — and the plan to make forays into villages from urban bases that have unnerved the administration.

“Urban areas remain strong recruitment centres for ‘revolutionaries’,” say officials, explaining the change in the People’s War modus operandi from the strategy followed by Naxalites in the sixties.


Calcutta, July 18: 
Paid Rs 21.75 for taking classes in a primary school for the last 29 years, Pranab Kumar Sengupta depends on tuitions — now banned by the government to discipline teachers — for a living.

Sitting in a wooden chair in his 100-square-feet room on the ground floor of a two-storied house in a run-down middle-class locality near Patipukur, where his colleagues had come to express their “solidarity” — for the umpteenth time — this afternoon, Sengupta put forward an argument in favour of teaching students at their residence which, in the current context, appears strong and difficult for the government to wish away.

“If the government will not take the responsibility of paying me for the services I have rendered for the last three decades, I will have to fend for myself,” Sengupta said as his colleagues nodded in agreement.

“What can be sadder than not getting paid for my contribution to the school which I helped rebuild after it was washed away in the 1978 flood?” he asked.

The 55-year-old Sengupta lives with a 10-member extended family — none has a steady job — in “rented accommodation”. The room where Sengupta was sitting, with minimalist furniture, is the one from where he has been waging an unequal battle. The largest furniture, a cot where he bends down to pen the petitions, is covered with a mattress, probably to keep the tattered bed-cloth hidden, and his fingers are admittedly “writer’s” fingers.

“I have written more than my share of petitions,” he said.

Asked how he managed to make both ends meet — the rent itself will be several times what he gets as salary — Sengupta replied that it was “some sort of an adjustment” he had reached with his landlord, Debabrata Pal.

“Actually, I don’t pay him anything… I can’t,” Sengupta said, adding that it was the same sort of “adjustment” he had been forced to reach with his advocate. “Saibalendu (Bhaumik, the advocate), too, does not charge me anything,” he said.

Bhaumik is too embarrassed to take a fee. “He keeps telling me about the illusion he was suffering from for so many years,” Sengupta said. “He thought that the judiciary was all-powerful but now says even he is helpless,” he added.

The few people who have dared to flout the repeated orders of Calcutta High Court to regularise his services are still not amenable to reason.

A clerk at the North 24-Parganas District Primary School Council who looks after the law cell, the person who demanded a bribe for “making things happen”, has been steadfast in his refusal to acknowledge the court order. “It’s pending” is the “official” reply.

Sengupta has approached everyone — from local CPM councillor Anup Mitra to CPM MP Biplab Dasgupta who was kind enough to arrange a meeting with school education minister Kanti Biswas three years ago — and has even visited the clerk’s residence near Dum Dum railway station.

Although his colleagues have been unwavering in their support through the 29-year crisis, the largest primary teachers’ organisation in the state — the CPM-controlled All-Bengal Primary Teachers’ Association — has not taken too much interest in the case. Its secretary Prasanta Basu said the organisation had not been approached by Sengupta and, hence, would not take up his case.

“We can think of doing something for him only after he comes to us (becomes a member?), isn’t it?” Basu said.


July 18: 
Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee has reconciled himself to the prospect of an early poll in Gujarat after maintaining that the election should be held according to schedule and a decision on the dates was the prerogative of the Election Commission.

However, the truant monsoon has cast a cloud on chief minister Narendra Modi’s plans for the early poll. The Gujarat Cabinet, which met for over four hours tonight, deferred a decision on dissolving the House.

The “informal dinner meeting” at Gandhinagar discussed issues that might have a direct bearing on BJP’s poll prospects. The weak monsoon, which withdrew after an initial burst, has begun to spread panic in the state, and the rural electorate could turn against the BJP, if the situation does not improve.

Modi has also taken note of the rousing reception that Shankersinh Vaghela received on becoming the state Congress president. Modi may now have to think twice before going to polls. A final decision is expected within a few days.

The BJP seemed determined to force the commission’s hand in calling for an early election — possibly this October — instead of the scheduled February 2003 by using the constitutional provision on the durability of an Assembly that has not met for six months together.

Vajpayee, who had earlier insisted that the election can take place earliest by next January, reportedly came around to accept the opinion that a “gap of two or three months” would not make a “big difference”.

“After all, elections were not held in April or May. Between October and February, it’s a question of just four months and nobody should have a problem with this,” claimed sources close to the Prime Minister.

The Assembly has not met after April 6. The BJP’s stand is that if the Assembly has not met for more than six months, it would have to be dissolved. A decision of the state Cabinet is enough to recommend dissolution.


Sindrani (North 24-Parganas), July 18: 
This school hoards rainwater to be used in experiments as distilled water is “too expensive”.

It does not have electricity for more than 30 minutes on an average every day.

Its teachers hold up their thumbs, asking students preparing for the Madhyamik to “suppose” they are “actually” test tubes, as there are not enough for the Higher Secondary candidates, for whom practicals are far more important.

This school also produces an HS top-10; his father works in a grocery owned by a school managing committee member.

For those showing the brilliant results from schools far from Calcutta as proof of the state education machinery’s “success”, a visit to Sindrani Sabitri Higher Secondary School should act as an eye-opener.

The school is located just two kilometres from the Indo-Bangladeshi border where cross-border smuggling is a more viable livelihood option than plodding through books or the paddy-fields and where government help reaches, if at all, to be washed away by the biennial flood.

The success story scripted by Palash Mandal (ranked seventh in this year’s HS examination) shows up in greater relief here than in the schools of Calcutta and its suburbs run by the government, missionary organisations or business houses.

Palash, however, is not alone in standing up for one of the most neglected regions of the state. He may not have any HS-topper predecessor but he has had no less than 13 doctors, two Indian Institute of Technology M.Techs and one West Bengal Civil Service (Executive) to look up to; all of them passed out of the school which stores rainwater because it can’t get distilled water.

School officials say they depend more on their ex-students —most of them not very well-off — more than the government for the infrastructure. If the school’s plus-two students have managed to see a laboratory — never mind that it cannot accommodate more than 10 students at one go and it makes do with purchases worth less than Rs 100 every month — it’s because of the alumni.

“We appealed to 540 of the 1,600-odd passouts till 1999 to contribute something for the construction of two labs,” headmaster Biren Mandal said.

The appeal raised Rs 60,000 — and two rooms, four tables, some reagents, two microscopes and other equipment, most of which were washed away in the 2000 flood.

The student-strength of 2,900 forces authorities to pack 130-plus students into each section. Cramming them into one classroom, however, is far more difficult with students first sitting, then standing in the classroom and — if it’s a full house — flowing out in to the corridors.

“Our first task every day is to check how many extra benches are in the corridors,” biology teacher Ajay Majumdar said. “We aren’t really very serious about attendance as teaching is nearly impossible if all 130-plus students turn up,” he explained.

It’s here that the ex-students come in handy, again. “When the going gets too tough, we employ the help of our alumni,” a teacher said. “We pay them a pittance to come and take some classes and help us out,” he added.

But the school, which got its Madhyamik affiliation in 1965 with its founder mortgaging his own pond to pay the Rs 3,000 needed, is dreaming another dream: it wants to have a full-fledged library of its own so that it does not have to appeal to members of the local Anchalik Yuba Sangha Club — again, comprising mainly of ex-students — for reference books for its students.

Government help is more than welcome, say teachers, but “we — our dreams — will not die because of their lack”, they add.


New Delhi, July 18: 
The low-pressure zone now poised off the Orissa coast could kickstart the monsoon over parched north India in 48 to 72 hours, weathermen said today.

Their supercomputer said otherwise. The raw forecast spewed out by their supercomputer today said the low-pressure zone would move over the peninsula but then head north-east, raising the spectre of more dry weather in the north-west.

But meteorologists blended the machine’s raw forecast with “experience and statistics” to predict that the low-pressure zone would continue steady in a north-west direction.

“It will weaken as it moves across the land, but is expected to arrive close to Delhi in about 72 hours,” Indian Meteorological Department deputy director-general Dhanna Singh said.

Meteorologists believe that this low-pressure zone — a moisture-laden vortex that originated over the Bay of Bengal — has revived the monsoon over peninsular India.

Several peninsular regions, including Orissa, Chhattisgarh, eastern Uttar Pradesh, eastern Rajasthan and parts of Gujarat, central Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka received good rainfall today.

Weather scientists have been tracking and trying to predict the movement of the low-pressure zone. “Its move in the north-west direction is expected to herald the onset of the monsoon over north-west India,” said Singh.

The delayed monsoon has sparked concern in the grain belt stretching across Punjab, Haryana, western Uttar Pradesh and central India.

Agrometeorological experts have said that if rainfall does not occur in these regions within the next 10 to 12 days, yields of several crops are likely to drop. Soyabean and bajra yields might already have been affected, but it is too early to make damage assessment, an agriculture ministry official said. “In such places, we’re asking farmers to plant oilseeds and pulses that require less water.”

Satellite pictures of the subcontinent today revealed clouds across the peninsula. Thunderclouds in western Uttar Pradesh, meteorologists said, are another positive sign for the still-dry north-western states.

Scientists also expect more low-pressure zones to form over the Bay of Bengal. The cloud build-up on the Bay is conducive for this, said Singh. In a typical monsoon, several such low-pressure zones appear over the Bay of Bengal and head north-west.

Scientists explain the discrepancy between their forecast and the one churned out by the supercomputer as “not entirely unexpected”. The supercomputer crunches vast amounts of weather data from around the globe for its forecast. Any gaps in the data can reduce the reliability of its forecast.

“So, we incorporate experience and statistics and take into account how the weather behaved in analogous situations in the past to get a more reliable forecast,” said Lakshman Rathore, an adviser at the National Centre for Medium Range Weather Forecasting.


New Delhi, July 18: 
The weather has given the Opposition yet another stick to beat the government with. During a discussion in Rajya Sabha today, the Opposition accused the government of not taking “timely and appropriate steps” to tackle the drought-like-situation in the country.

The BJP high command, for its part, moved into high gear – party president M. Venkaiah Naidu called on Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and requested him to set in motion a contingency plan to deal with the drought situation.

Naidu said that the Centre must convince states to join the Comprehensive National Agricultural Insurance Scheme. He also had a discussion on the contingency plan with the Union agriculture minister.

The Opposition went hammer and tongs at the Centre for not doing enough.

“Fifty per cent of the kharif crop has already been damaged. But the government has not started any relief operations,” Rajya Sabha members said. They stressed that the government was reluctant to admit the seriousness of the situation.

“It is really laughable when the meteorological department even now is maintaining that the country is not facing a severe deficit of rainfall,” Samajwadi Party MP Janeshwar Mishra said, initiating the debate.

Congress and Left MPs regretted that after 50 years of Independence, there was only a limited area of irrigated arable land.

“There has been no proper water harvesting,” said Congress MP Suresh Pachauri.

The Uttar Pradesh government today declared 15 districts “drought affected”, prompting the Cabinet to defer the realisation of revenue dues.

“The BJP party president wants the government to take early steps for extending agricultural insurance for other crops, including orchids,” said a press note from the BJP central office.

The government is preparing to launch a ‘Food for Work’ programme if the monsoon fails to arrive in the next 72 hours, as predicted by the weather bureau.

The BJP central office sent a circular to all states, asking them to address the problems of farmers and agricultural labourers.

“The contingency plans adopted by states should include proper guidance to farmers for alternative crops and providing the necessary seeds to those areas where farmers are opting for alternative crops,” the press note said.


Lucknow, July 18: 
In Delhi stands an iron pillar that Indian metallurgists had forged 1,600 years ago. It has remained rust-free and a riddle for scientists.

Finally, the mystery has been solved. Scientists at the Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur, have discovered that a thin layer of “miswite”, a compound of iron, oxygen and hydrogen, has protected the famous cast iron pillar from the corrosive curse.

“The protective film must have taken form within three years of the pillar’s erection and has been growing ever so slowly since then. During the last 1,600 years or so, it has grown just one-twentieth of a millimetre thick,” said R. Balasubramaniam, under whom a team of the metallurgy department was working on the puzzle.

He considers the iron pillar dating back to the 4th century AD as “one of the best evidence for the metal casting and forging skills of the metallurgists in ancient India”.

The pillar, carrying an inscription in honour of Vishnu, bears the name of Gupta king Chandragupta II (375-413). Around 1020 AD Tomar king Anangpal had installed it in his new fortress capital, Lalkot, in what is now known as Delhi.

After Mohammed Ghori’s invasion, his slave general Qutabuddin Aibak built India’s first mosque at the site “from the remains of no less than 27 Hindu and Jain temples that stood within the walls of the city”.

Many of the pillars found around the Quwwatul Islam Masjid are from the razed temples, but the iron pillar in the courtyard is the one that Anangpal installed. “The famous iron pillar has intrigued scientists interested in finding the techniques used for its preservation more than the historians documenting the ravages of Muslim invaders to restore India’s last glory”, Balasubramaniam said.

“It was suspected that high phosphorus and low sulphur percentage may be the reason for its non-rusting quality, but the technique was unknown till now,” the IIT expert said. Made of 99.72 per cent iron, the pillar contains, carbon (0.08 per cent), silicon (0.046 per cent), sulphur (0.006 per cent), phosphorus (0.94 per cent), nitrogen (0.32 per cent) and copper (0.034 per cent).

Balasubramaniam’s team has established that the protective layer that preserved the monument for centuries was formed catalytically due to the presence of high amounts of phosphorous in the iron.

“The high phosphorous content is a result of the unique iron-making process practised by ancient Indians, who reduced iron ore into steel in one step by mixing it with charcoal,” Balasumbramaniam said.

Modern blast furnaces, on the other hand, use limestone in place of charcoal, yielding molten slag and pig iron that is later converted into steel. In the modern process, most of the phosphorous is carried away by the slag.

Balasubramaniam said the “kinetic scheme” that his group developed to investigate the growth of the protective film may be useful in changing long-term corrosion behaviour of containers for nuclear storage applications.

“This is a case where the scientific skills of ancient India would be put to use for the development of industrial capability of modern India,” pointed out a member of his team.


Washington, July 18: 
For Samyukta Verma, the award-winning South Indian film actress, life on the reel turned real in New York in the early hours of yesterday morning.

Suspected of being terrorists or potential hijackers, Verma and five of her companions travelling aboard a domestic flight from Chicago to New York were escorted aboard their American Trans Air flight by US Air Force F-16s and taken for interrogation after their plane landed in a sanitised area at La Guardia airport.

The experience of being grilled till 4 am by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, airport police and a special unit of the New York police department dissipated Verma’s joy of just having won an award in Chicago for being the best actress on the Malayalam screen.

The incident involving the South Indian artistes is the latest of 400 cases since September 11, when fighter jets from the North American Aerospace Defence Command have ‘rescued’ civilian planes from terrorist threats, almost all of them false alarms.

It is also the latest in a series of incidents in which South Asians and other “Middle Eastern-looking” men and women have been detained or harassed by law enforcement authorities or assaulted by ‘patriots’ here on suspicion of being terrorists.

Verma’s problems aboard American Trans Air flight 204 started when her group of six passengers started rehearsing their upcoming performance in the Big Apple. The group passed around scripts of their stage roles in preparation for the rehearsal.

A woman passenger on the flight suspected that these “Arab-looking” men and women were passing around plans for a hijack or some other terrorist act. She also thought the group was speaking Arabic, when, in fact, they were conversing in Malayalam.

She alerted a flight attendant, who told the pilot that Verma and her group were gesticulating in the direction of the Statue of Liberty in a tongue she did not comprehend.

The artistes were unaware of being watched: but for those who were keeping an eye on them, things got more alarming as Jayaraj Warrier, a comedian, started rehearsing his mimicry.

Soon the F-16s were escorting the passenger jet to a secure area of La Guardia airport, from where the FBI agents took charge.

Verma and her companions were eventually released after their sponsor in New York, Vijayan Menon, vouched for their itinerary in the city. Menon, who set up Tara Arts, has been organising Malayalam cultural programmes in New York for three decades.

Since September 11, the best publicised false alarm involving an Indian celebrity was in Canada, from where actor Kamal Hasan was denied permission to board a plane to the US.

The Canadians were unfairly criticised in India for the incident: immigration at Canadian airports for passengers departing for America is done by US officials, not Canadians.

False alarms involving not-so-famous Indians have received wide publicity in the US media. In one such case, Uday Menon, a consultant with J.P. Morgan, was handcuffed and roughed up by officials when he arrived with his wife to see a Broadway musical.

The agent through whom Menon had booked his theatre tickets told the police that he had aroused her suspicions because of his accent and wanted to go to a crowded play where he had seats in the middle.

In another case, Sudeep Das, a consultant in New Jersey, and his wife Nupur received midnight knocks at their residence because an airport shuttle booking clerk had reported Das. The clerk said Das had expanded his last name while making a reservation: “D as in destruction, A as in America and S as in Sam”. Das was arrested and had to go to court based on the clerk’s allegation.




Maximum: 31.3°C (-1)
Minimum: 26.9°C (+1)


16.9 mm

Relative humidity

Maximum: 95%,
Minimum: 81%


Sunrise: 5.04 am

Sunset: 6.21 pm
Generally cloudy sky, with one or two spells of rain or thundershowers

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