Suffocation deaths in police gas chamber
Work pass test for Nepal ties
HS syllabus ready for trim
Sangh comes full circle on Singh
Fashion eyes the road from ramp
Don’s dialogue on tape divides Bollywood
Victorian tag on censors
Yashwant to track Pervez trail
Ransom trap rescues car financier
Calcutta Weather

Malda, Aug. 1: 
A small, windowless court lock-up stuffed with nearly 400 accused, almost four times its capacity, turned into a gas chamber today, leaving two dead and more than 100 ill.

The accused, mostly picked up on charges of petty crimes in an all-night, district-wide round-up, were beaten up inside the lock-up as they gasped for breath and asked for water to drink. Only a handful had their thirst quenched after they agreed to pay policemen Rs 40 for a glass of water.

Though the accused, packed like livestock in a cramped truck, baked in the steaming lock-up and clamoured for a breath of fresh air, the policemen on guard refused to let them out. The gate was opened only after many of them fell unconscious.

Seven of the accused, all-but one unconscious, were taken to the Malda district hospital late this evening after senior police officers, including superintendent of police Pankaj Dutta, arrived. The others, lying unattended on the court grounds, were carried to the police lines for treatment.

Doctors said six of the seven admitted were “severely dehydrated’’ and were in a critical condition. The identities of the dead were not disclosed by police, but doctors said both appeared to be in their forties. The police did not say why the two men had been arrested.

The lock-up is on the ground floor of the two-storey courthouse at the centre of Malda. Next door is the office of the sub-divisional judicial magistrate, while the superintendent of police sits above in his office.

“We were very thirsty and felt suffocated. We asked the policemen standing outside to give us some water. But what we got in return was beating with lathis,” Abed Ali, slipping in and out of consciousness at the hospital, said.

He said he was picked up from the old town as he and his friends, drunk on toddy, were having a chat on the roadside. “We were packed inside like goats, so many of us in such a small room. It was unbearable,” he said.

Horimohan Robidas, arrested from Rathua for running a hooch den, said the lock-up had the capacity to hold 100 people at the most. “But there were four times as many people. It felt like a gas chamber.’’

Amirul Sheikh, another accused, said the policemen demanded money for water. “The thirsty people were crying for water, but the policemen set the price of a glass at Rs 40. Very few could afford it.’’

Police sources said nearly 375 people were rounded up from different parts of the district through the night on charges of gambling, selling and drinking hooch and creating nuisance on the streets.

District judge Keya Basu, who rushed to the hospital, asked: “Why did they keep so many people in such a small lock-up?’’ Basu said all the arrested people brought to the court were released on bail. “They should all have been allowed to go. I don’t know why they were still kept there for so long.’’

The state government has ordered an inquiry. The Malda Bar Association has called a strike in the court tomorrow to protest the incident. Association chief Asit Bose said members had long demanded a bigger lock-up. “But the administration paid no attention. It now has no one but itself to blame for the tragedy.’’

Chief secretary Sourin Roy said he did not have details. Inspector-general of police (law and order) Chayan Mukherjee said the executive magistrate of Malda has been asked to inquire into the matter.

District magistrate Ashok Bala held a meeting with senior officials but no action was taken against any policemen till late tonight. Director-general of police D.C. Vajpai said he was informed of the incident “almost immediately”. “I have asked the inspector-general (north Bengal) to submit a report on the incident at the earliest.”


Washington, Aug.1: 
The recent bonhomie established between Nepal’s King Gyanendra and Indian leaders may turn out to be short-lived, if the Nepal government follows up on a Supreme Court decision last week mandating work permits for Indians living in Nepal.

The decision portends a crisis over the future of two million stateless people of Indian origin now living in Nepal, tens of thousands of Biharis on the border who work in Nepal, employees of nearly 100 Indo-Nepal joint ventures in the kingdom and thousands of other Indians now living there.

And if New Delhi reciprocates by imposing work permits on Nepalis living in India, the effect could be lasting.

From the security business where Nepali chowkidars form the backbone of guards and domestics in many Indian cities to Mumbai’s red-light district, work permits could drastically cut down both the level and influx of Nepalis across the border.

The Supreme Court’s decision has the potential to open a Pandora’s Box in Indo-Nepal relations, reminiscent of the crisis that bedevilled Indo-Sri Lankan ties in the 1960s on the issue of stateless persons.

The problem with Lanka was only partly resolved by the Sirimavo-Shastri Pact on 1964 and the Sirimavo-Indira Gandhi Pact 10 years later. The problem later had its impact on the struggle now waged by Tamil Tigers for a separate homeland.

Work permits for Indians have long been a touchy issue in Nepal. And there have been complaints of unfair treatment of Indians in Nepal even under very friendly governments in Kathmandu.

But successive administrations have held back on the issue, recognising that damage to the kingdom’s interests could be much more than any adverse impact on India.

Any exodus of Nepalis from India as a result of reciprocity by New Delhi would add to the kingdom’s economic woes, if their nationals were prevented from working across the border and sending remittances from India.

It is not clear from the Supreme Court’s edict when and how the government is to implement its decision last week.

But if the administration does go ahead with the directive, it will be yet another sign of Nepal’s assertiveness in the post-September 11 scenario.

With the international spotlight falling on terrorism in South Asia, Nepal has suddenly been catapulted for attention from Tokyo to Washington.

US secretary of state Colin Powell made the first ever visit by an American foreign minister to Nepal in January and Nepal’s Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba was received in the White House in May, also for the first time.

In June, Russia, China, Japan, France, Germany, Norway, Switzerland, Finland, Denmark, Australia, India and the US attended a conference in London at which the British minister for international development, Clare Short, declared that the community of nations would not allow Nepal to become a “failed state”.

Last week, the police in Kathmandu stopped a press conference by followers of the Dalai Lama, reflecting more than just a new warmth in relations with Beijing following Gyanendra’s visit to China.

A few days earlier, Tibetans in Nepal were forced to cancel all celebrations for the birthday of the Dalai Lama.

Nepal has also been clamouring for a complete review of its 1950 treaty with India which impacts on several aspects of their bilateral relations.

The Supreme Court decision will, however, make South Block sit up and take a complete look at relations with Nepal, which have been largely glossed over in the last two years.


Calcutta, Aug. 1: 
Shaken by a Left-leaning academic’s trenchant observation that the heavy load of the higher secondary syllabus is forcing students to increasingly engage private tutors, education authorities today announced plans to shorten the syllabus.

Jyotirmoy Mukherjee, the president of the West Bengal Council of Higher Secondary Education, announced the council’s resolve to prune the syllabus minutes after economist Amiya Bagchi voiced criticism at a felicitation of HS toppers.

With higher education minister Satyasadhan Chakraborty and school education minister Kanti Biswas watching, Bagchi, a long-time advocate of rationalisation of the syllabus, called for immediate measures from the council which, he said, was making the students cram for HS exams.

“We need to seriously address the impact of the crushing load of the HS syllabus on students,” Bagchi said.

“No matter how intelligent they are, students are forced to turn to private tutors because the syllabus is large and often left uncovered by the schools. It must be reduced.”

In Bagchi’s view, the practice of engaging private tutors will flourish so long as the syllabus continues to be what it is.

As Mukherjee and other senior officials — seated on the dais — fidgeted, Bagchi asked: “Why should intelligent students take the help of private tutors?”

“After having been associated with the teaching profession for more than 40 years, I feel students tend to approach private tutors when they lack the confidence to do well in their exams. They cannot be blamed for they do this after finding that the syllabus is not covered fully in the classroom. It is a dangerous trend that should be immediately stopped.”

Mukherjee said he would soon put forth a proposal for consideration before Ranju Gopal Mukherjee, the head of the 13-member committee reviewing the education system in Bengal.

“The committee is supposed to submit its report by the end of next month. I will request it to incorporate Bagchi’s suggestion into the report. We will ask the committee to revise the syllabi in such a way so that they are completed within the stipulated time,” the council president said.

It was not the council alone that felt the lashing of Bagchi’s tongue. He expressed concern at the manner in which large numbers of meritorious and even average students were ignoring pure science and the humanities, opting instead for medical and engineering education.

The comments were made after the two ministers highlighted the success of the Left Front in increasing engineering and medical education opportunities.

Bagchi conceded that “we need more doctors and engineers”. “But there is an acute scarcity of good historians, scholars in political science. The scarcity will increase if all good students only run after engineering and medical degrees,” said Bagchi.


New Delhi, Aug. 1: 
The RSS has at last begun to accept Jaswant Singh as one of its own in his new avatar as finance minister.

An editorial in the forthcoming issue of the Sangh mouthpiece, Organiser, heaps praise on Singh for the tax sops announced in Parliament yesterday. Sangh sources said these measures would inspire confidence among small investors and wage-earners.

The change of heart in the RSS was reflected in a letter written in the latest issue of Organiser commending Singh.

“I welcome the appointment of Jaswant Singh as the finance minister especially because he is a man of integrity. His side of North Block has presided over a series of scams although the word has come into vogue recently,” wrote Praful Goradia, the former editor of BJP Today.

In a broadside against Singh’s predecessor, Yashwant Sinha, Goradia recalled that while T.T. Krishnamachari, finance minister in the Nehru Cabinet, had to resign after being embroiled in financial irregularities, Sinha was awarded the external affairs portfolio for the UTI “disaster”.

Ironically, the RSS had worked overtime to scuttle Singh’s appointment as finance minister in 1998. He was Vajpayee’s first choice for the job but the swadeshi lobby felt his “pro-US” leanings would be disastrous for the economy.

“To our grief, we soon discovered that a socialist ended up behaving like a World Bank representative,” said a Bihar MP, who used every available BJP forum to criticise Sinha.

Vajpayee’s man is fast emerging as a hero of sorts for his past detractors. BJP sources said its national executive, scheduled to meet on Saturday, may pass a resolution praising Singh for the tax relief to the middle-classes — the party’s backbone. “He has helped the BJP re-identify with the masses,” said BJP’s economic cell convener Jagdish Shettigar. Party sources have taken note of Singh’s efforts to undo some of Sinha’s damage.

“His first utterances were that no stomach should go empty and housewives should be helped to save instead of living from hand to mouth. Later he said, ‘I want every investor, big and small, to feel safe’,” sources said. Singh’s reference to public sector non-performing assets (NPAs) as “loot” has also gone down well with his party bosses.

“At the end of the day he is merely carrying out what his political masters want him to. Sinha got the rough end of the stick because the bosses wanted him to go on the fast track of economic reforms without caring for the human aspects. They got it as good as they gave in all the elections.

“Now that the BJP wants to redeem itself in the elections to come, the government has to talk about pro-people policies. The crowning irony is that a person, who was thought to be a man of the classes, has been ordained to relate to the masses,” said a BJP leader.


New Delhi, Aug. 1: 
The Lakme India Fashion Week is back, and this time it means business.

Fresh from its travel to Mumbai last year, it is now putting down roots in Delhi, where 53 fashion designers will be showcasing their ready-to-wear collections from August 2 to 8 at Taj Palace Hotel.

This time around, the emphasis will move away from the socialite-partying aspect to concentrate on the media-buyer segment.

Zubin Sarkari, event director, IMG, the agency which is managing and marketing the event, promises: “This time the priority will be getting designers focused on trade and making price points readily available to the buyers.”

The focus will also be on the domestic market rather than the international one. Says Vinod Kaul, director, Fashion Design Council of India (FDCI): “Our first priority will be Indian buyers, though there has been some interest shown from Dubai and Hong Kong as well.”

Among the international buyers is the UK department store, Selfridges, which recently showcased the best of Indian fashion as part of its Bollywood promotion.

Also scheduled to attend are buyers from Pegasus Fashion Imports Limited and Variety Silk House, though the biggie, Saks 5th Avenue, succumbed to last-minute jitters about the political situation in India.

The Indian buyers include such boutiques as Ensemble, larger department stores such as Ebony, Shoppers’ Stop and Raymonds, which recently entered the retail market with a chain of designerwear stores called Be.

But while business is one of the focus areas, and Sarkari admits that the retail sector needs to develop to push the frontiers of designer fashion further, the event is also aimed at increasing fashion awareness throughout the country.

Some 300-odd journalists from across the country are covering the event, 25 TV crews, including one from Fashion TV, will be shooting non-stop, and the telecast rights have been sold to Star World, which will run 30-minute segments on prime time next month.

Rumour also has it that the influential international fashion publication, Women’s Wear Daily, will be covering the event. The aim is to increase awareness of designer labels, which will have a trickle-down effect at the high street level.

Says Sarkari, “If you use that as a yardstick to measure the success of earlier fashion weeks, then they have definitely worked. Today, there are more stores stocking designer labels, and the ready-to-wear market has expanded.”

IMG has been organising New York Fashion Week for many years now, but Sarkari confesses that it is difficult to replicate it in India, where the fashion industry is still in its infancy, with its turnover standing at a paltry Rs 180 crore.

But the idea is to customise the fashion week to fit in with the Indian scenario, which is relatively underdeveloped and indisciplined.

Thus, designers have been advised to steer clear of drama and remember that the shows should be about the clothes. The FDCI has also set price points, for the convenience of buyers.

Says Vinod Kaul, “Pret lines must be priced between Rs 800-10,000, while the diffusion lines are between Rs 10,000-30,000.” These are not iron-tight categories, but the majority of the outfits should be within this limit.

Designers have to stump up for the privilege of showing. Those who show solo have to pay Rs 1,25,000 to FDCI, while the two- and three-designer shows cost Rs 65,000 and 35,000 respectively.

Those who have shown at earlier fashion weeks walk in automatically, while new entrants have to submit a sample collection to an anonymous jury which decides whether they merit a show. This year, there are as many as 14 new designers, including Sabyasachi Mukherjee from Calcutta.

Designers will also set up stalls in an adjoining hall, where buyers can inspect the merchandise and perhaps place orders.

Also on the anvil are a series of seminars on such topics as fashion merchandising and forecasting, while sponsors Lakme and Sunsilk will hold workshops on hairstyling and make-up.

While most of the A-list of the Indian fashion scene is slated to show at fashion week, Mumbai remains under-represented with Abu Jani-Sandeep Khosla, Manish Malhotra and Hemant Trivedi staying away.

Of the Delhi big guns, Tarun Tahiliani has absented himself, pleading prior engagements in New York.

But making up for his absence is first-time participant Suneet Varma, who is doing the Lakme finale show along with Monisha Jaising and Rajesh Pratap Singh.

Says Varma, who had earlier adopted a wait-and-watch policy, “This is an event which brings an element of seriousness to the entire industry, thus benefiting all of us. And I feel that it is here to stay.”


Mumbai, Aug. 1: 
Film star Sunjay Dutt’s conversation with mafia don Chhota Shakeel has driven a wedge through tinsel town.

The camaraderie that was clearly visible in the film fraternity the first time Dutt got into trouble, when he was booked under Tada after the Mumbai riots, is missing now. Whatever show of unity there is, too, seems more like a charade.

Speaking reluctantly with a “no names, please” request, a 30-something director of a widely-watched serial on STAR Plus said Bollywood wants the truth to come out.

“I think it is time the matter was settled conclusively. Police, too, should come out with more evidence and Bollywood personalities posing as experts on TV shows should just shut up. There is no point in saying people are scared and forced into doing something by a mafios. Often the choice is ours and for our personal benefit,” he said.

“Earlier Bollywood did get a whiff of conspiracy and thought it was an attempt to malign someone for political reasons, but the tapes have forced us into silence,” said a film producer in his 50s.

After the clear demonstration of closeness between the actor and three friends — Mahesh Manjrekar, Sanjay Gupta and Harish Sughand — there are many who would want to keep a safe distance from the quartet “at least till things are out in the open”, he added.

But if repeated exposures of Bollywood’s umbilical cord with the underworld have infused the industry with a great dose of cynicism, there are those who openly sympathise with Dutt, especially due to the reputation and respect enjoyed by his father Sunil Dutt.

The line this group still wants to take is the one articulated by director Mahesh Bhatt. “The tapes just show that the underworld has the power to get you more than the police have the power to protect you,” Bhatt said recently. There are others like former censor board director Vijay Anand, who says “all this is a conspiracy by politicians to malign the film industry”.

Anand, who quit the board after an acrimonious dispute with the ministry of information and broadcasting, said he is more disgusted by the way the Dutt issue is being handled. He strongly feels that politics is behind Dutt’s predilection.

There are others who echo this mistrust of politicians and the games they play, more than fear of or hatred towards the mafia. While Paresh Rawal feels that the politicians are more corrupt than anybody else and that all scams have their roots in politics, there are others, like Bollywood struggler Mohan Singh, who said: “If politicians want, they can get rid of corruption just like that.”

Flicking his carefully kept unkempt hair, Singh added: “There are many others like Dutt who are quite friendly with the underworld, just that they are on the right side of the political bosses as of now. Neta ke samne abhineta kuch bhi nahin hain.”


Mumbai, Aug. 1: 
Film producers want the censor board to stop acting coy.

Close on the heels of Vijay Anand quitting as censor board chairman over the government’s refusal to allow special theatres for X-rated films, a leading body of filmmakers has hit out at the board asking it to shed its “Victorian” ideas and change “outdated” guidelines.

In a letter to Arvind Trivedi (who played Ravana in the serial Ramayana), acting chairman of the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC), the Association of Motion Pictures and TV Programme Producers (AMPTPP) has demanded: “The CBFC should ensure that certification remains according to the changing trends of society and is not meant to promote Victorian and outdated ideas.”

The letter said instead of adapting to the changing times, the film censors have “regressed” to the dark ages and the Victorian era.

It added: “The guidelines on the basis of which films are certified are so vague that today no one can even make a film on Mahabharat, Quran or Bible because even the contents of these religious texts can be considered in violation of the guidelines.” Censorship “should only be used to inform cinegoers about the category to which the film belongs”.

The association, however, made it clear that it does not want to promote pornography. “We just want the censors to move with the times. While everything is allowed on television, even newspapers and magazines, why do they make such a fuss about movies? Even foreign films are left untouched. Why do Indian films have to suffer?” asks Ramachandran Nair, assistant secretary of AMPTPP.

“The censor board has a problem when it comes to human beings touching each other. But it’s guilty of double standards, because it allows that in foreign films,” Nair added.

Producer Pehlaj Nihalni is the chairperson of the body.

The association says it’s time that the 50-year-old Cinematograph Act was updated.

It also asked for an objective viewpoint: “The definition of clean and healthy entertainment differs from person to person and this guideline is misused.”

Referring to the Supreme Court judgment in the Bandit Queen case that held that the audience of “adult” films were mature enough to decide which movies they would watch, the producers said existing guidelines are being misused because “no one has definite vision about values and standards of society”.


New Delhi, Aug. 1: 
Close on the heels of Pervez Musharraf, foreign minister Yashwant Sinha is planning an official trip to Bangladesh.

The proposed visit — tentatively scheduled for August 24 — will give Sinha the opportunity to ease the strains in bilateral relations and strengthen ties with the ruling Bangladesh National Party.

It will also give him the chance to assess the damage that Musharraf has been able to inflict on Indo-Bangladesh relations, which have gone through several ups and downs in the last three decades.

Soon after assuming the foreign minister’s portfolio, Sinha embarked on a mission to strengthen bilateral ties with the neighbours.

Last month he visited Maldives and Sri Lanka, his maiden visit as foreign minister. This weekend he plans to go to Bhutan, and later in the month to Nepal where, apart from holding bilateral talks with the Nepalese leadership, he will participate in the Saarc foreign ministers’ meet beginning August 21.

However, his proposed visit to Dhaka is gathering special significance. Musharraf’s tour and his interactions with the BNP leadership this week was closely watched by South Block.

Though the complete picture and the impact of the Pakistan President’s visit is still emerging, officials in the foreign ministry say his impact, if allowed to grow, would not turn out in India’s interest.

On the face of it, Musharraf’s visit to both Bangladesh and Sri Lanka are being seen by Delhi as an attempt by the Pakistan President to win friends in the region, particularly at a time when Islamabad is engaged in a military standoff with Delhi. Moreover, with terrorism emerging as a global issue and many fingers pointing at Pakistan as the source of terrorism in the region, Musharraf’s urgency to find sympathetic ears among neighbours is understandable.

Both Bangladesh and Pakistan have often seen India as the big bully in the region and, therefore, there is a convergence of interest in their coming together. From Dhaka’s point of view, particularly with the BNP in power, it is Pakistan which can act as a counter balance to the alleged Indian hegemony in South Asia.

On his part, Musharraf has tried his best to flash the right signals. His regret on the excesses of 1971 may not have gone down well with everyone in Bangladesh, but some sections believe it is a good beginning.

The Pakistan President also tried to woo Dhaka by offering tariff concessions on Bangladeshi exports to Islamabad, particularly tea — an item that India has so far refused to allow in from Bangladesh.


Calcutta, Aug. 1: 
A car financier in Salt Lake, his friend and the car driver were rescued late tonight from the clutches of abductors who had demanded Rs 5 lakh to release them.

Police said Subham Basu, on his way to Tribeni, picked up a friend, Abhijit Mukherjee, at Ultadanga this morning. Basu called up his family, an hour after he left home, asking for Rs 2.5 lakh as his “car had met with an accident”.

A few hours later, Basu called up again. This time another person took over the phone and told his family to bring Rs 5 lakh to Bandel if they wanted to see Basu, Mukherjee and the car driver alive.

Basu’s family lodged an FIR with Bidhannagar (South) police station that got in touch with Hooghly police.

The abductors were asked to come near Bandel railway station to take the ransom. At 11 pm, Bandel police officials reached the spot with one of them posing as Basu’s father. The five abductors walked into the trap and were arrested.




Maximum: 31.3°C (-1)
Minimum: 26.5°C (+1)


31.3 mm

Relative Humidity

Max: 97%
Min: 79%

Sunrise: 5.10 am

Sunset: 6.16 pm


One or two spells of light to moderate rain

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