CM wish-list for Haldia
Meet people’s needs or face death: Red letter
Crack in teachers’ unity
Priority for primary healthcare
Fund flaws in civic bodies
Cost-effective coil cure
Kalam talks vision, voter hair cut
Mahajan plays President-maker
Former cops in token fight
Doctors on warpath after police kill colleague

Haldia, July 18: 
The chief minister has announced several proposals to make this port township the industrial hub of the eastern region.

“We have a lot of investors ready to invest in Haldia and we have decided to set in place certain schemes that will make the place more attractive,” Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee said at a news conference at the office of the Haldia Development Authority.

The chief minister was at the port town — whose municipality goes to the polls on July 22 — to address a civic election rally.

Bhattacharjee directed the Haldia Development Authority to allot land to set up industries in not more than two weeks. “The Haldia Development Authority will build a land bank to ensure that prompt allotment of land can be done,” he said.

The chief minister said the development unit had already earmarked 950 acre and that 1,500 acre more would be included in the bank.

Saying Haldia would soon be accorded the “special economic zone” status, the chief minister said a Rs 40-crore drainage project was underway to improve the quality of life here.

“We will also have to build quality houses where foreign investors and their technical people can reside,” Bhattacharjee said. Housing development, particularly in the joint sector, was on and another 3,000 units would be added shortly to the rapidly growing township, he added.

“I have had discussions with the Reliance Group which has agreed to set up an information technology park in Haldia,” the chief minister announced.

Saying the town had become the fourth busiest port in the country, the chief minister declared: “Haldia is Bengal’s future.”

Bhattacharjee hoped that in the near future, the Haldia Development Authority will have a per capita budget estimate for development work in tune with that of the Calcutta Metropolitan Development Authority.

Bhattacharjee said besides Mitsubishi, several Japanese firms were keen to come to Haldia, particularly in petrochemical and fertiliser sectors.

“Haldia will also gain importance once the India-Myanmar gas pipeline is through,” he added.

Earlier, speaking at a public meeting at Vivekananda Vidya Bhavan, the chief minister urged the gathering to vote for Left Front candidates in the civic polls.

“When the Congress was in power, they never paid any attention to the 123 municipalities in the state,” the chief minister claimed.

The chief minister said his government had encouraged decentralisation in spending and that half of the planned budget went to panchayats and civic bodies. “The three thrust areas here should be healthcare, literacy and self-employment among the youth.”

“It is true that we have our weaknesses and commit mistakes. We have our limitations and, therefore, cannot fulfil all expectations,” Bhattacharjee admitted, repeating the line used ever since the Left Front was voted back to power for a record sixth time last year.

The chief minister said the Left Front would strive to bring back into its fold people who had strayed due to lack of faith in the ruling combine.


Calcutta, July 18: 
Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee and party secretary Anil Biswas are among the top CPM leaders who have been threatened with assassination in an anonymous letter if the government failed to provide basic amenities to rural people.

The one-page letter, written in red ink, reads: “If the government hesitates to meet the basic amenities of rural people like repairing roads, leaders like Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee and Anil Biswas will be killed and rallies will be organised with their bodies.”

CPM central committee member Benoy Konar said the party suspected that the People’s War sent the threat. The letter was delivered to the party headquarters on Alimuddin Street by unidentified persons.

It was Konar who opened the letter which did not contain any name or address. “Some portions of the letter are typed and the rest handwritten. We received the letter on Tuesday,” Konar told The Telegraph.

Biswas admitted that his party had received a threat from unidentified persons. “We used to receive similar letters from various agencies. I have not yet seen the letter but I have been told about it.”

The party secretary was in China on a weeklong trip and returned to Calcutta on Tuesday.

“This is nothing new for us. We received such letters in the past. We don’t attach much importance to them as we feel that only cowards can write such letters,” said a senior CPM leader on condition of anonymity.

Asked if the letter was written by People’s War activists, Biswas said: “It may be that they wrote the letter. But it is difficult to pinpoint as the writers have not disclosed their identity.”

Asked if the party will seek additional security for its leaders, Biswas said: “Is it possible to give security to everyone? I don’t understand why they will kill us. They hold a separate view on Marxism-Leninism and differ from us. Naturally, we belong to separate camps ideologically. But does that mean they will have to kill us in order to campaign for their ideology?” he asked.

“Why are they considering us as their enemy? Why don’t they regard us as their political adversary?”

Though the party has not yet formally informed the government about the threat, it is learnt that the chief minister and other senior party leaders were told about the recent development. The state secretariat, which will meet tomorrow, might take up the issue, CPM sources said.

Biswas, however, ruled out talks with the People’s War until it renounced violence. He said his party considered the Naxalite group a force that believed in the elimination of its opposition. “We consider the RSS and the ISI as threats to our country. We also consider the People’s War as equally dangerous as the organisation believes in politics of murder.”


Calcutta, July 18: 
The CPM-backed West Bengal College University Teachers’ Association (WBCUTA) yesterday skipped a meeting convened by the teaching staff of state-run universities to condemn the alleged torture of Kaushik Ganguly.

The lecturer at Rajabazar Science College was arrested for alleged links with the People’s War. Ganguly was taken to Midnapore for interrogation and was reportedly beaten by the police. Ganguly, now in judicial custody, is at Midnapore district hospital.

This is for the first time since Ganguly’s arrest that a large number of his colleagues from state-aided universities and colleges assembled together to condemn the alleged torture on him.

The meeting, held at Presidency College, was convened by the newly formed All-Bengal University Teachers Association. The group consists of dissident members from the WBCUTA, which refused to organise a movement against the government in support of demands of college and university teachers.

Though the WBCUTA did not attend, the CPI-backed Bengal Teachers and Employees Association participated in the meeting and condemned the “police excesses” on Ganguly.

The Calcutta University Teachers Association and the All-Bengal Teachers Association —CPM-controlled bodies — also did not turn up for the meeting.

An official of the dissident group said today that they would hold a protest meeting at Rajabazar Science College on July 25. It will also issue a statement condemning the “physical torture on Ganguly in police custody”.

Asked why it did not attend yesterday’s meeting, a WBCUTA official said the organisation did not receive the invitation.

“We were told by some of our members that such a meeting would be held, but the organisers did not invite us and it is not possible for our association to attend any meeting in which we are not invited,” a member said.

But the organisers insisted that they had invited both the CPM-backed teachers’ bodies. “We had sent them invitation letters and even requested them over phone to join the meeting. We don’t know why they are not admitting the facts,” said an official.

About 15 associations of university, college and school teachers attended yesterday’s meeting. The Jadavpur University Teachers Association, the Bidhan Chandra Krishi Viswavidyalaya, the West Bengal Animal and Fisheries Science University, the All-Bengal Government College Teachers Association and the Bengal Engineering College Teachers Association among others had sent their representatives.

The participants at the meeting vowed to protest against the “police torture” on the lecturer.


Calcutta, July 18: 
Surya Kanta Mishra today trashed health projects funded by international agencies, dubbing them unimportant in the face of dismal primary healthcare services.

Addressing a seminar organised by the Indian Institute of Social Welfare and Business Management, the health minister said the Phase II of the health services development project as well as Hepatitis-B and polio vaccination schemes — initiated by the Centre — were “not integrated properly”.

“When we talk of priority projects, there are some funded schemes which are not important at the moment. But the government cannot avoid them as we neither have the option nor the freedom to choose,” the minister said in an obvious reference to World Bank and WHO projects that the state cannot scrap.

Mishra observed that it was time to augment resources for optimal use at the primary healthcare level. “The primary healthcare centres need more attention at the moment. Improvement in the rural belt is the need of the hour,” he said.

The minister has called for the implementation of a government programme to create awareness through “community health workers” in the rural belt. “The workers can educate people on preventing various health hazards. This, I guess, is more important,” said Mishra.

He admitted that the health department did not have funds to cater to the needs of the poor at the primary health centres.


Calcutta, July 18: 
The rot in the state government’s finances has crept deep down into urban local bodies and their development outfits, the comptroller and auditor general has said in its 2000-2001 report.

Absence of accounting, poor utilisation and diversion of funds as well as faulty financial management by these bodies have come in the way of urban development, the report says.

The Calcutta Municipal Corporation tops the list of urban bodies found guilty of poor housekeeping. It has not been preparing annual accounts in the prescribed format since 1990-91.

After repeated reminders by the auditors, it produced “some handwritten” documents in 1998 for the period between 1990 and 1996, which contained “serious inadequacies”, including absence of “supporting documents”, the report says.

The auditors found large variations — in the range of Rs 10.72 crore to Rs 35.12 crore — between the cash in bank balances and figures entered in the civic body’s books.

With more than 700 employees and officials in the finance department, its performance in the following years was more startling. “From 1996-97 onwards, the CMC did not prepare accounts in any form,” the report says.

The receipts during 1996-97 and 2000-2001 were Rs 1873.80 crore while expenditure was Rs 2033.12 crore. The absence of proper accounts was brought to the notice of the secretary, municipal affairs, but the government did not respond to the letter till September last year.

According to the audit, the civic body lost Rs 12.78 crore in non-levy or short levy of property taxes on multi-storied buildings. More than Rs 10 crore were lost in dishonoured cheques, with officials not bothering to recover the amount.

The Calcutta Improvement Trust followed in the footsteps of the civic body. “Delay in accounts preparation ranged between four and six years,” the report says. This resulted in receipts and expenditure of Rs 91.45 crore and Rs 107.39 crore between 1995-96 and 1999-2000 remaining unaccounted for years. In the absence of accounts, the government was releasing funds to the trust on an “ad hoc basis”, the report says.

The trust was not even fulfilling statutory obligations like maintaining separate provident fund accounts for its employees. The auditors noted an “alarming discrepancy” of Rs 2.25 crore between the provident fund balance in the trust’s balance sheet and the provident fund ledger account.

The Calcutta Metropolitan Development Authority has been found to have borrowed to finance its mega-city project in March 1998 despite having a “surplus fund” of Rs 144.66 crore. It also incurred unnecessary expenditure of Rs 1.24 crore by borrowing from Hudco for two housing projects. The audit blames CMDA officials for not exploring the option of raising money from prospective buyers.

The report also hauls up Howrah Municipal Corporation and Haldia Development Authority for their misdeeds. The civic body in Howrah regularised illegal constructions by “imposing fines” instead of enforcing provisions of the relevant law. Of a total fine of Rs 1.87 crore, only Rs 88.74 lakh was realised.

Referring to unnecessary expenditure by civic bodies, the CAG report presents an instance of Haldia Development Authority, which bought fly ash from contractors paying Rs 33.42 lakh when it had the option of picking it up free from the Kolaghat power station.


Calcutta, July 18: 
A new-generation technical device, which was introduced at a city hospital on Thursday, promises to whittle down the cost of treating a rare congenital heart condition considerably.

In a “significant first” in Calcutta, doctors at the Rabindranath Tagore International Institute of Cardiac Sciences (RTIICS) have used the revolutionary German-made Nit-Occlud coil to treat patent ductus arteriosus (PDA) patients.

“Some patients are born with an extra tube which connects the great arteries coming out of the heart. This connection is essential for survival in the uterus and usually closes within seven days after birth. In less than one per cent of the population, it remains open, when it needs to be closed artificially,” explained Vikas Kohli, director, paediatric cardiology, RTIICS.

Kohli performed five PDA occlusion procedures using the nickel-titanium coil, along with Trong-Phi Le, who was part of the R&D team that invented the device. “While some PDA patients may not betray any symptoms at all, others can suffer heart failure, failure to grow, or infections within the walls of the tube. This is a non-surgical procedure and the therapy of choice in PDA occlusion,” said Le, a Vietnamese-born specialist who lives and researches in Hamburg.

The Nit-Occlud coil, developed and marketed by PFM, a Cologne-based firm, has clear-cut advantages over the previous-generation double-umbrella frames and stainless steel coils, and is much more “cost-effective than the US-made Amplatzer Duct Occluder”, claimed Le, who has conducted more than 100 procedures deploying the new contraption.

“This coil is more stable and flexible, passively taking the shape of the tube. It can be used even to close ductus as large as 4 mm in diameter, unlike the earlier ones which were effective only in small ductus. It could make a telling difference, as the cost of a procedure will be at least Rs 20,000 cheaper than the high-end Amplatzer, which we have been using on patients who can afford it,” said Kohli.


New Delhi, July 18: 
The newspaper vendor from Rameswaram today made news when he was elected India’s 12th President in a one-sided contest.

In a preferential system of election, the result of which was announced today, 71-year-old A.P.J. Abdul Kalam trounced the Left-backed Laxmi Sahgal. Kalam bagged nearly 90 per cent vote value, polling 4,152 votes with a value of 9,22,884, against Sahgal’s 459 votes accounting for 1,07,366 vote value.

Of the 4,785 MPs and MLAs who voted, 174 votes were found invalid, including 42 invalid votes by MPs. Old-timers said it was a record of sorts.

The image of Kalam’s silver locks seems to have stuck in the legislators’ minds, with one MP who cast an invalid vote advising Kalam to “get your hair cut before becoming the President of the republic”. Another invalid ballot said Sahgal should have contested 20 years ago.

Kalam and his election agent, Pramod Mahajan, did not seem bothered by the fall in the percentage of votes. The missile technologist said he was delighted on being elected as President of India. “India needs a second vision to transform into a prosperous, poverty free, healthy and developed nation,” the President-elect said in his first message to the country.

Mahajan was also pleased with the result. Soon after handing over the election declaration to Kalam, he said: “I told the President-elect that one satellite (Kalam) has been put in orbit and my job now is to put the second satellite (NDA vice-presidential candidate Bhairon Singh Shekhawat) also into orbit. He (Kalam) responded by saying you are a good booster.”

Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf felicitated Kalam on his victory. In a message, Musharraf said he hopes to work with Kalam for the establishment of tension-free relations between Pakistan and India and for resolving the differences that stand in the way of normal bilateral ties.

Kalam will be sworn in at the central hall of Parliament on July 25 when he will succeed K.R. Narayanan, the first Dalit President of the republic whose term expires on July 24. He would be sporting a Jodhpuri bandhgala on the day of his swearing-in.

The President-elect’s desire to bring in 1,000 schoolchildren from all over the country to see the swearing-in may not be fulfilled as the government is prepared to accommodate just 100 students from various Delhi schools.

Tomorrow, Narayanan will host a dinner for the President-elect and the council of ministers headed by Atal Bihari Vajpayee. The Prime Minister will host a dinner in honour of outgoing President Narayanan on July 24 at Hyderabad House where Kalam and the council of ministers will be present.

Left parties have graciously accepted Sahgal’s defeat. Nilotpal Basu, who represented Sahgal, however, said she had secured 17,000 more of value votes than was expected.

Security was heightened at Kalam’s Asiad Village house, where the media and well wishers poured in to congratulate him.


New Delhi, July 18: 
If A.P.J. Abdul Kalam covered himself in glory today, parliamentary affairs minister Pramod Mahajan basked in its reflection.

As soon as the result of the presidential poll was announced by the returning officer, Mahajan rushed to Kalam’s Siri Fort residence to hand over the certificate of election and promptly assumed the role of his instructor and guide.

Reminding the President-elect that he would have to wear a bandhgala on July 25 for the swearing-in, he is learnt to have cracked a sinister joke. “Now your gala is bandh,” Mahajan apparently told Kalam.

Orders for six suits in different colours have reached the tailor, of which four — in navy blue, dark grey, fawn and black — with special designs have been finalised. The First Citizen will don the one in navy blue for the oath ceremony.

Shekhawat followed Mahajan to Kalam’s residence. Congratulating the technocrat, he said: “Kalam saheb has won, I am still in the run.” Stating that “he is the Pokhran hero and I stay near that place”, the former Rajasthan chief minister said Kalam was an expert and “is already in the orbit” and “for his aid, I would be another satellite”.

The President-elect’s much-talked-about hairstyle left its mark on the polling. One voter had scribbled in Marathi on the ballot paper that if Kalam cuts his hair, he will look much better. He went on to add that either Kalam should cut his hair or Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee should grow his. Both brahmacharis should look alike.

The wisdom came for a price — it was one of the 42 invalid votes cast.

Left candidate for the presidential post Laxmi Sahgal, too, received a sermon. Another ballot paper — of course, it became invalid — said she should have contested 20 years ago.

Mahajan conveyed these pieces of advice to Kalam when he rushed to his house. He related that Kalam, whom he found on the third-floor, was reluctant to come down and face the television camera crew camping there since morning.

“‘Sir today you have to listen to me’, and he agreed and posed for the electronic media. He was offered sweets. I then told him ‘my job is over. Tomorrow there is a dinner in your honour by the President’,” narrated Mahajan.

When asked if the swearing-in ceremony could be held at 10 am to avoid disruption of Parliament proceedings, Kalam readily agreed. The technocrat does not believe in auspicious time.

Then it was the professor’s turn to ask the questions. Was there anything like a “thanks-giving” speech? “I told him, to the best of my knowledge, no, but you can go around and informally express your feelings,” Mahajan said.

“What about my students?” asked Kalam, referring to his demand that schoolchildren be present at his swearing-in.


New Delhi, July 18: 
One served as a constable in Rajasthan, while the other was a sub-inspector in Bombay Police. Destiny today brought them face to face with the odds in favour of the constable for the second-most important constitutional job in the country.

Former Rajasthan chief minister Bhairon Singh Shekhawat, who was a constable in Rajasthan, filed his nomination for the August 12 vice-presidential polls as NDA candidate today, his 60th wedding anniversary.

Shekhawat, who has the support of the Telugu Desam Party, the Bahujan Samaj Party and the ADMK, faces Congress nominee Sushil Kumar Shinde who left Bombay police as sub-inspector in 1971.

Hopelessly short of votes in the electoral college that elects the Vice-President, the Opposition nominated Shinde hoping to net some votes from scheduled caste and scheduled tribe MPs. Till late tonight, the Opposition was desperately trying to keep a united face in view of reports that Mulayam Singh Yadav’s Samajwadi Party may not support Shinde, who is likely to file his nomination tomorrow.

Not to be outwitted in caste manoeuvrings, BJP managers mustered the support of SC\ST MPs getting 22 seconders from the weaker sections to blunt the Opposition game plan.

Opposition leaders said their choice fell on Shinde on several counts for a “principled fight” to stall the handover of the constitutional office to what they described as a “hardcore product of the RSS”. Shinde is among the few MPs who hail from weaker sections but has been elected from a general seat.

Opposition parties had decided to let the Congress decide the vice-presidential nominee, say sources.

Initially, Buta Singh’s name was doing the rounds but the Left reportedly objected because of his “tainted image”. Moreover, Shinde’s candidature ensured that the unpredictable Nationalist Congress Party would support the Opposition in the “symbolic contest”.

However, some Congress MPs wondered why the leadership did not take into account the row surrounding Shinde that had surfaced during the Maharashtra municipal polls.

The 79-year-old Shekhawat, who had thrice been the chief minister of Rajasthan, predicted an “easy victory” for himself, claiming he would also receive support from “several others” in the Opposition.

Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani and NDA convener George Fernandes were among those who proposed his name.

Shinde, too, made loud claims and asked MPs from both Houses to follow their conscience.

Shekhawat said he has “mixed feelings” on moving to Delhi. He plans to tour all districts of Rajasthan before taking over as Vice-President, as it will help the BJP in the Assembly polls scheduled to be held in November 2003.


July 18: 
Anger today replaced shock at the bizarre killing of Sonali Nandini Basu by police on Tuesday night as the girl’s parents returned to Calcutta after her funeral.

“It’s shocking. I don’t know what to say,” was the stunned reaction of her father, Chinmoy Basu, who flew to Agra with wife Debika yesterday after being informed over phone. Policemen shot his daughter, a post-graduate student of S.N. Medical College, Agra, when she was returning home with a colleague after dinner.

Irate medicos vent their fury at the unprovoked killing, burning vehicles and staging violent demonstrations in Agra. Junior doctors of all Uttar Pradesh medical colleges demanded the immediate arrest and prosecution of the killer cops and a public apology from chief minister Mayavati. They threatened to go on an indefinite strike if their demands were not met by this evening.

The government suspended nine policemen, including the SHO of Farha police station, Dharamveer Singh. But the police were still not sure about the identity of the killers.

A large contingent of securitymen was posted in various hostels of the Agra Medical College to prevent a repeat of yesterday’s violence. The medical college and hospitals attached to it were closed for the second day.

Two doctors of S.N. Medical College Hospital were suspended for not acting promptly when Anurag Dhingra, Sonali’s colleague, rushed her there on Tuesday night.

A police spokesman said the Agra and Mathura police were working hand in hand in the case. Criminal proceedings had been started against 12 policemen and their weapons sealed for a ballistics test, he said. “All the involved policemen have been suspended till further action is taken against them.”

In Calcutta, the Basu residence was shrouded in gloom as Sonali’s relatives awaited her parents’ return. Her uncle sat reading a newspaper, refusing to say much. “Let them come back and we will know the details. All that I know is what I have read from the papers,” he said.

Sonali had studied at Loreto House and, after finishing school, got admission to the Bankura Sammilani Medical College. A few years through her MBBS, she succeeded in getting a transfer to NRS Medical College so that she could be close to her parents. She graduated in 1999 and was registered a doctor the same year.

Recalling the fair, thin-framed girl, Somenath Das, an employee of a clothes shop nearby, said the neighbourhood had been proud a girl from their locality was a doctor.

“Her father used to come out to the gate of their compound every evening and spend some time, probably thinking about his daughter. It’s hard to believe that she won’t be returning any more,” he said.

Another neighbour, Saikat Roy, who lives two houses away, said: “She’s from a very conservative family. We remember her as a shy, well-behaved girl.”

Sonali was returning with Dhingra in his Maruti Esteem after dinner at McDonald’s when a police jeep blocked their way around 11.30 pm on the Agra-Mathura highway.

“A number of policemen was flagging down the car, shouting at us to stop. Shocked by the sudden appearance of the policemen whom she took for outlaws, Sonali urged me not to stop,” Dhingra said over phone.

As he tried to dodge the police party, Dhingra’s car was hit with a wooden stick. “I heard a gunshot and saw Sonali collapse in a pool of blood.” A bullet, fired from a .303 bore rifle, had hit her in the neck.

Dhingra immediately informed the emergency unit at S.N. Medical College to prepare to receive the wounded doctor. But by the time he reached Agra, it was too late. Doctors declared Sonali dead immediately after arrival.

Dhingra, however, accused the hospital administration of not preparing for a case of bullet injury-related trauma.

“The emergency room did not even have an adequate supply of oxygen, which could have possibly saved Sonali,” he said.


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