Dream dies for star school
Loopholes in tenancy Bill
HC check on Haldia pollution
IT-failure link to rising crime
Radioactive camera lost in transit
Straw echoes Delhi line
Ramayana bridge between Hindus & Muslims
Jaitley role limited to autonomy dialogue
Sex education comes to school
India fears Fiji rerun in Guyana

Habra, July 19: 
Fifty years ago, a boy from this school made it to the top-10 merit list in the school final exams; the school promptly received a grant from the government that was enough to build a building and science laboratories.

Now, funds are supposed to be easier to come by, with all the decentralisation and the MP’s Local Area Development Fund. But 12 columns — now covered with moss and erected in 1999 — are all that the school has to show for its plans to construct an auditorium; the local administration (read the all-powerful block development office) refused to route a grant from the MP’s fund till the school authorities agreed to employ a contractor they were recommending.

Fifty years is a long time. But the Habra Government Higher Secondary School, a consistent place-finder in the merit lists of both Madhyamik and Higher Secondary exams, is now finding that things always don’t get better with time.

They don’t want incentives now. “We are desperately trying to forget the past when a brilliant result led to a bonanza of sorts in the shape of some cash into the school,” school managing committee secretary Tapan Sengupta said. “But the government should at least ensure that a school that has consistently sent students to the merit lists is not victimised,” he added.

Not that Sengupta is expecting anything. But he — and the school’s teachers — are now worried that another dream may die young because of the attitude of the authorities. Saurabh Saha ranked 12th in the 2001 Madhyamik examination. But, with numerous vacancies in teachers’ posts, the school is not being able to provide him with the right guidance that will help him hold on to his Madhyamik performance when he appears for the H.S. exams next year, say teachers.

“It’s difficult to look your students in their eyes when you can’t take a class because a teacher is absent,” school academic council secretary Subol Chandra De said, emphasising his helplessness. “If the situation is so bad that the absence of a single teacher ensures that a class falls through, is it fair to expect another merit-list performance from Saha or some of his classmates who are equally brilliant?” he asked.

The situation in the junior classes is a little better as the Bengali teacher can be called upon to take a history class. “But you can’t tell a geography teacher to take a Class-XII chemistry class, can you?” asked Swapan Bhadra, a teacher.

The school now has more than 25 per cent of the sanctioned posts vacant. Supposed to have 46 teachers, it is now making do with only 34. And, to make things worse, most of the vacancies are for the senior classes.

There are other things that the management is worried about: geography and statistics, two relatively new subjects, now don’t have labs at all. The hall — constructed with public donation two years ago — now houses a state youth affairs department-conducted computer centre but there’s no money to turn the hall into a laboratory, say officials. “We have just gone around with the begging bowl two years ago,” De said. “How can we go to our neighbours again so soon?” he asked.

Instead of forcing schools outside Calcutta to go around “begging”, the government should do something, especially for those schools that have regularly given better-equipped Calcutta schools a run for their money with their own “hands tied behind the back”, say his colleagues.


Calcutta, July 19: 
The amendments to the Premises Tenancy Act, 1997, have ruffled a few feathers in trade organisations and tenant associations. House owners, too, have expressed displeasure over some of the provisions and omissions in the Act.

A Bill enforcing these amendments with retrospective effect from July 10, 2001, was passed by the Assembly yesterday.

The Federation of West Bengal Trade Associations, while welcoming some of its aspects, has accused the government of failing to achieve a balance between tenants and landlords. “Several suggestions and promises were made at meetings with the minister for land and land reforms, the finance minister and the chief minister. But none of them has been incorporated in the Bill,” said Mahesh Singhania, a federation official.

A significant amendment was the inclusion of rented premises with a floor area of less than 25 square metres. The 1997 Act had excluded such small premises, which are mostly occupied by people below the poverty line. “The new rules allow the landlord to hike the rents of these premises at par with bigger and well-off premises,” the federation pointed out.

It said a large section of tenants will continue to be “in the clutches of the transfer of property Act” even after the rent ceiling for its application was raised from Rs 2,000 to Rs 6,500 in case of residential tenancies and Rs 3,000 to Rs 10,000 in the case of non-residential ones.

The amended provisions have ample scope for confusion and litigation between the landlords and the tenants, the federation added.


Calcutta, July 19: 
The green bench of Calcutta High Court today constituted a committee to monitor the level of pollution generated by industrial units in Haldia.

The order was passed on the basis of three separate reports submitted by the State Pollution Control Board, the Central Pollution Control Board and an expert committee of the agricultural science department of Bidhan Chandra Krishi Visvavidyalay.

The high court had asked for the reports after environmental activist Subhas Dutta filed a case on behalf of the villagers of Kumar Chowk in Haldia, alleging that crops and trees of the area were being harmed by gaseous discharge from a unit of a multinational firm.

All the three reports admitted that crops and trees were being affected, but it was impossible to ascertain whether gas from the said firm was causing it.

The committee, headed by the sub-divisional police officer of Haldia, includes the medical officer, the regional officer and a representative of State Pollution Control Board.

Two representatives of farmers and an agricultural expert selected by the vice-chancellor of Vidya Sagar University will also be part of the panel, the court said.

The bench of Chief Justice A.K. Mathur and Justice S. Dutta directed the committee to lodge complaints with the State Pollution Control Board if it was found that industrial pollution was harming environment and agriculture.

The judges also asked the board to take steps against the erring units after giving them a chance to put things right.


Calcutta, July 19: 
Ineffective use of information technology led to Bengal’s police force failing to control, investigate and prevent criminal activities, says the report of the comptroller and auditor general (CAG) for 2000-01.

Referring to the rise in “major crimes” — kidnapping and operation of inter-state gangs — the auditors have stressed the need make the Crime Criminal Information System (CCIS) operational.

“The CCIS, launched in 1994-95 with an investment of Rs 2 crore to cope with the increasing trend of crime, has remained unimplemented for over seven years for want of online connectivity, absence of state-level monitoring, lack of co-ordination and inadequate training,” states the report.

The system envisaged installation of computers at all crime record bureaus. According to the CAG report, the Centre has supplied 49 computers valued at Rs 1.73 crore between November 1994 and August 2000. Besides, the home ministry also granted Rs 15.48 lakh for infrastructural development to the state crime record bureau.

However, the auditors discovered that Calcutta police had failed to set up district crime record bureaus. Moreover, the computers could not be utilised for the CCIS project for want of connectivity. The state crime record bureau failed to achieve the target of imparting training on documentation and management of crime records under the CCIS project during 1994-2001.

This led to a rise in the number of pending cases and the CAG report estimates that between 1996 and 2000, the number has gone up from 23,805 to 39,189.

Besides failing to keep pace with the changing times, the police force in the state has been found guilty of faulty planning. “Skewed deployment of police personnel to combat crime resulted in higher incidence of crime,” the report says.

As a test case, the auditors scrutinised records of police personnel deployed in 14 places in Birbhum district and observed that “the area with high crime rate was provided with less police personnel than areas with low crime rates”.

According to CAG estimates, each police personnel was covering an area of 9.13 square km and monitoring 6,092 people. It has also estimated that between 1996 and 2001, women comprised only one per cent of the police forces, whereas crime against women ranged between 14 to 18 per cent.

Diversion of funds — a common feature in the state — has has also been seen in its worst form in the police force.


Calcutta, July 19: 
A gamma radiography camera containing a radioactive source was lost in transit between Lakhimpur and Digboi in Assam around Tuesday midnight, according to information received from the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board in Mumbai.

The camera is licensed to Radiographic Inspection Services, a Calcutta-based private company, which was transporting the camera to the IOC refineries at Digboi for examination of pipeline weldings.

Contacted by The Telegraph, board secretary Dr K.S. Parthasarathy said two workers of the company were carrying the camera in a public bus when the vehicle met with an accident between Biswanath Chariali and Balipara. They got on to another bus and, after reaching their destination, realised that the container with the camera was missing.

“The company has informed us that it has lodged a report with the police and have requested them to help in the search for the lost device on a priority basis,” the secretary said.

“We are not happy with the incident. Transporting such equipment in public vehicles is against safety norms, even if it was being carried in the baggage boot of the bus. Such radioactive equipment should be transported in specially designated vehicles. We have directed the company to suspend its activities at the Digboi site and return all their cameras to a safe storage site in Calcutta pending investigations.”

The AERB official said gamma radiography cameras contain Iridium-192 as its radioactive source. It has a strength of 19.7 curies. He, however, added that the container is a very sturdy equipment, which “cannot be easily tampered with and would not cause any significant hazard to persons as long as the source is inside the container”.

The toaster-shaped container and the camera inside it weigh around 24 kg. A “danger” sign, along with a radiation symbol, is displayed on the device. The official said the possibility of any layman opening the container was “minimal”. The cost of the equipment would be around Rs 8 lakh, he added.

Our Jorhat correspondent, Pullock Dutta, adds: Gautam Deb, a representative of Radiographic Inspection Services, told The Telegraph this evening that he boarded a Jorhat-bound private night service bus (AS-01A-4596) at Lakhimpur on July 16 around 6 pm.

The bus broke down at a place between Balipara and Biswanath Chariali (both on the north bank) around 12.30 am. After some time, an alternate bus was provided. Deb said that he “personally supervised” shifting of the container from one bus to the other.

“However, when we arrived at Jorhat around 6 am, the box was missing,” he said.


New Delhi, July 19: 
British foreign secretary Jack Straw appears to have set off yet another round of diplomatic initiative to break the deadlock in India-Pakistan relations.

Straw held detailed discussions with the Indian leadership today and will leave for Islamabad tomorrow for consultations with President Pervez Musharraf. He will be back in Delhi tomorrow evening for further talks before taking the flight back to London early on Sunday.

The shuttle diplomacy has given rise to speculation that Straw may carry some message from the Indian leadership to Musharraf for ending the military standoff between the nuclear rivals.

Though British diplomats claimed that Straw’s return to Delhi is purely for logistical reasons and not for playing messenger boy, sources pointed to the informal dinner his Indian counterpart Yashwant Sinha is planning for him tomorrow. This would give ample opportunity to the two sides to exchange views on what the Pakistan President had to say on ending the impasse.

In their meetings with Straw, Sinha and national security adviser Brajesh Mishra made it clear that Musharraf’s statement on stamping out terrorism from Pakistan alone has not instilled any confidence in Delhi. They said the military ruler’s pledge to end infiltration across the Line of Control has had no major impact on the ground situation.

The Indian leaders pointed out that though there had been a substantial drop last month, infiltration has gone up once again. The presence of a large number of militants waiting for an opportunity to sneak into India and the existence of terrorist camps in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir have raised serious questions about Islamabad’s intentions.

Foreign funds, particularly the loans being extended to Pakistan for developing its economy and social sector by international financial institutions and the possibility of these being diverted to encourage militancy in Kashmir, also came up during the discussions.

Later in the evening, while addressing a news conference, Straw said the level of tension in the region has come down, though the situation was still difficult. “What is obvious is that the key to defuse tension in South Asia is to stop infiltration,” he said and added that Britain was happy with the progress made by Musharraf in tackling terrorist activities.


Vadagara (Kozhikode), July 19: 
It’s the month of Karkataka on the Malayalam calendar and the hum of recitation from the Ramayana is emanating from most Hindu homes.

But the notes wafting out of T.H. Kunhiraman Nambiar’s house in this small north Kerala town are not like any other. He has given this month-long ritual to ward off bad luck a ‘communal’ twist by opting to recite the unique Maapila Ramayanam, or the Muslim version of the great Indian epic.

His son has decided to help him spread the message of communal harmony. P. Pavithran, a lecturer in the Sanskrit University at Kaladi, the birthplace of Adi Sankaracharya, has announced his family’s resolve to get this unique version of the Ramayana published.

The Maapila Ramayanam is a beautiful tribute to the king of Ayodhya and the epic’s author Valmiki put together by an anonymous Muslim balladeer.

Nambiar, 80, an expert on Kerala’s oral literary tradition, is not new to it. He had heard it first when he was 15 from a Muslim balladeer, Piranthan Hassankutty, who was derided as mad for his seemingly endless gusto for singing folk tunes.

The retired schoolmaster learnt it by rote and put it down in his notes, but could not publish it because it was incomplete. It had only four chapters, recounting King Dasarath’s melancholy as he was childless and the subsequent birth of his four sons, Soorpanakha’s attempt to seduce Ram, Hanuman’s destruction of Lanka and the Ram-Ravana war. It begins with a reference to Valmiki and how the “bearded saint” spread Ram’s story.

Nambiar, who believes the version was composed by someone with an exhaustive knowledge of the epic and its various versions, decided to complete the Maapila Ramayanam. He travelled extensively in north Kerala, visiting even remote villages, to interact with Muslim folk singers and experts on the region’s folk and oral traditions. But he met with little success and could not add to the four chapters.

He had almost given up on his mission to publish the version, but recent events, particularly the Gujarat carnage, steeled his will. He was convinced that the homage to Ram and Valmiki in Maapila Pattu — folk songs in the local Muslim dialect of north Kerala — had to be reached to more people even though it was incomplete. “Father wishes to make it known to all rabid communalists that our society’s tradition is that of caring and sharing,” Pavithran said.

The Maapila Ramayanam would show how the Hindu and Muslim leadership respected each other and co-existed peacefully in the past, Nambiar stressed. He remembers Maapila performers like Hassankutty regularly used to sing this Ramayana before a Hindu audience, and they were widely accepted. Hassankutty was a regular presence at poet Kadathanattu Madhaviyamma’s house and several other significant Hindu households. “Neither Muslims nor Hindus considered it a sacrilege to listen to this. Nor did it evoke communal tension, as any simple thing does now. I am trying to bring back those old days,” Nambiar said.

He hopes that the book his son is striving to bring out would become as popular as the oral version was in the late ‘20s and early ‘30s. With his famed recitation skills and phenomenal memory, Nambiar has already helped the Kerala Sahitya Academy and the state government resuscitate three Malayalam oral epics — Poomathai Ponnamma, Mathileri Kanni and Kunhi Thalu — and publish them in book form. He also knows 12 versions of the Ramayana by heart.


New Delhi, July 19: 
Arun Jaitley’s role as Kashmir interlocutor will initially be confined to autonomy talks with chief minister Farooq Abdullah.

Jaitley’s legal expertise will come in handy to sort out the sensitive issue of devolution of powers. As a confidant of the deputy Prime Minister, Jaitley will be able to push L.K. Advani’s line without undermining the influence of Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee.

The government, which is at last giving serious thought to the “internal” aspect of its Kashmir policy, has adopted a multi-pronged approach.

While Pakistan and the war against terror remains pivotal, it is also ready to woo the people with a political and economic package.

Advani will also be useful in getting the BJP and the RSS to agree to a devolution package. “The government realises that the people of Kashmir will have to be given something concrete, more than what other states have. One can quibble over the term to be used — autonomy or devolution, those are minor matters,” an official handling Kashmir explained.

Advani and Jaitley’s task will also be to prepare the party to give up its rigid stand on devolution.

“The party has already come a long way from opposing the special status for Kashmir and scrapping of Article 370 to talking of devolution,” a senior official explained. “Give them some time to come around to agreeing to the rest,” he added.

Officials believe the BJP will finally not oppose the Centre if something worthwhile can be worked out in Kashmir. “After all, any improvement in the situation in Kashmir will ultimately be good for the party’s election prospects.”

The Centre’s objective is to keep the people of Kashmir engaged at various levels. While Jaitley will deal with the National Conference, PMO special officer A.S. Dulat is already in touch with various groups in Kashmir, including Hizb-ul Mujahideen, India-based commander Majid Dar and his cadre. Dulat’s brief is to ensure the widest possible representation of political opinion in the elections.

Farooq in fray

In Srinagar, Abdullah hinted that he would be the ruling party’s chief ministerial candidate. “There have been growing demands from within the National Conference that I must steer the party to victory during the ensuing Assembly elections. I have, therefore, decided to be the party’s chief ministerial candidate once again,” he said.

After son Omar took charge of the party, there was speculation that Abdullah was paving the way for his succession as chief minister. He is believed to have changed his plans after stiff opposition from senior partymen and advisers.

In the Assembly, Abdullah said quibbling between autonomy and greater devolution of powers was a “matter of interpretation”, what was important is that the Centre had agreed to talks.

Disclosing that the talks would begin after the ongoing Assembly session, he said: “ The BJP that once pleaded for abrogation of Article 370 is now ready to discuss autonomy.”


New Delhi, July 19: 
The AIDS scare has finally driven policymakers to turn their attention to educating adolescents. The National Council of Educational Research and Training is working on a skill development programme in 6 states to equip teachers to deal with their problems.

“We have launched a pilot project in 30 districts in Gujarat, Kerala, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Kerala, Orissa and Rajasthan. These states have been picked by the UNFPA (United Nations Population Fund),” said J.L. Pandey, national co-ordinator of NCERT’s population education project.

Sex education has not become part of the school curriculum despite efforts by a section of the policymakers to include it in the new syllabus. However, what they have achieved is a strategy that will be part of the school programme — to discuss adolescent sexual behaviour and other problems of students between classes VII and XII. And those who have put together the project believe AIDS has been a “blessing in disguise”.

The programme has several stages, which include teacher and peer counselling by professional counsellors. Setting up of a Question Box in schools where students, without identifying themselves, can put in queries on their dilemmas.

“The response is very good,” says Pandey. Students came forward with a whole lot of questions and there was a debate on how to cope with difficult situations. The objective of the programme is to draw the students and parents out of their shells and encourage a discussion on sexual behaviour, AIDS and value system. The parents, too, are counselled under the project.

Instead of lecturing the adolescents, the programme includes activities like debates, plays, quiz and story telling.

According to NCERT officials, one of the most effective ways of breaking the ice has been through story telling. Students and counsellors weave stories that require protagonists to make difficult choices. “Instead of moralising the students, they themselves try to find a way they are comfortable with. Then there is a discussion on whether the decision was right or wrong,” says Pande.


New Delhi, July 19: 
A concerned but helpless India is watching from a distance the fast-paced developments in Guyana, where political opponents of President Bharat Jagdeo have got together with criminal elements in the island nation to overthrow him.

Some fear a Fiji-like situation in Guyana. There are predictions that Jagdeo may soon suffer the same fate as that of Mahendra Chaudhary two years ago. But apart from offering legal advice and training to the Guyana police force and bureaucracy, there is little that the Vajpayee government can do at this juncture.

Though some sections in the ruling BJP, and particularly the RSS, are keen on keeping alive their ties with People of Indian Origin (PIO) and want India to do more, South Block has adopted a wait-and-watch policy. The reason: despite threats of being overthrown, Jagdeo is still in power.

“If we try to do anything more, we will be accused of interfering in the internal matters of a sovereign country,” said a senior official in South Block. Moreover, as long as the democratically-elected President is in power, international opinion cannot be mobilised, as it was in Fiji when Chaudhary was overthrown from office.

Guyana, formerly British Guinea, is situated on the northeast coast of South America where PIOs constitute nearly 53 per cent of the island’s population.

Ethnic trouble has been brewing in Guyana for quite some time with the PIOs and the Afro-Guyanese trying to find accommodation suitable to both groups. Matters came to a pass on July 3 when an armed group, allegedly supporters of the Opposition People’s National Congress, stormed the presidential palace in Georgetown. Though Jagdeo was away hosting a summit of the Caribbean nations, the attack brought into sharp focus the ethnic divide on the island.

A number of criminals, who had allegedly escaped from prison a few weeks earlier, were said to among the demonstrators who attacked the President’s palace. The violence soon spread to other parts of the island and the main targets of the attacks were rich businessmen and well-to-do professionals of Indian origin.

Guyana’s ethnic violence prompted many PIOs to pull out their money from there and put it in banks in the US and other countries. Many have started migrating to safer destinations. The riots have also adversely affected the island’s economy.

One of the major problems Jagdeo faces is that the Guyanese army and police force are incapable of dealing with the situation. Moreover, a majority of the recruits in the police and the army belong to the Afro-Guyanese ethnic group and are reluctant to follow orders from a President of Indian origin.

Senior government officials feel Jagdeo’s problem is not typical to Guyana, but common to most of the other developing nations where PIOs form a sizeable section of the population. Although settlers of Indian origin are mostly in business or self-employed, they do not command the “executive levers of power” despite winning elections. This has often led to their isolation, as in Fiji, where the army and the police are mainly made of the ethnic group that sides with the forces in times of ethnic strife.


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