Cadre threat to break bus strike
Buddha rules out rail protest with Mamata
Shrink aid for suicide zone
Coal royalty blow
Dogs bark, cops bite dust
Centre turns education gun on Bengal
Discussion minus vote on rail division
Delhi bid to allay syllabus fears
Nehru’s voice for soft iron man
Crackdown on surrogate ads

 
 
CADRE THREAT TO BREAK BUS STRIKE 
 
 
A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Aug. 1: 
The bus strike will move into its second day tomorrow with major owners’ lobbies deciding to continue the agitation against the revised fare.

With the strike being extended to 15 other districts from tomorrow, chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee today warned that the government would take “necessary steps” if the strike continued indefinitely.

Transport minister Subhas Chakraborty, who hinted that the government would crack down on the bus owners by using party cadre and bus workers, also sounded a warning note. “Everything will be normal by Saturday,” he said at Writers’ Buildings.

However, Ajit Saha, president of Bengal Bus Syndicate, struck a defiant note, saying: “The strike will continue till our demands are met, come what may. The strike was not called overnight. We gave enough time to announce an enhanced fare after discussions. The new fare to become effective from today is unrealistic and will be disastrous for this industry. It is a question of our survival”.

According to Saha, diesel in 1999 cost Rs 14.20 a litre and the bus fare for the first 2 km was Rs 2.50. At present, when diesel costs Rs 19.61, including a Re-1 cess levied by the government, the fare for the first 2 km has been fixed at Rs 2. “Does it not sound ludicrous?” he asked.

Some 46,000 buses, belonging to Bengal Bus Syndicate and Joint Council of Bus Syndicates, went off the roads in Calcutta, Howrah as well as in North and South 24-Parganas.

More than 20,000 buses belonging to the joint council will be back on the roads tomorrow while those belonging to the Bengal Bus Syndicate will continue with the strike “till the fare is revised”.

The chief minister today discussed the issue with the transport minister. Talking to mediapersons, Chakraborty said Calcutta State Transport Corporation plied more than 950 buses in Calcutta and adjoining areas while about 150 Calcutta Tramways Corporation buses were pressed into service during the day to cope with the rush.

Chakraborty claimed that nearly 80 per cent of buses would resume services tomorrow. “I expect normality will be restored by Saturday when all buses will be on the road.”

The minister, who held a meeting with leaders of bus workers’ trade unions, said the workers were “just waiting for my signal”. “If the bus owners remain adamant, I shall be compelled to unleash cadre and bus workers on the bus operators to maintain normal traffic.”

   

 
 
BUDDHA RULES OUT RAIL PROTEST WITH MAMATA 
 
 
A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Aug. 1: 
The chief minister today ruled out a joint movement with the Trinamul Congress on the railway bifurcation issue as the state’s main Opposition party has “no moral right to organise a bandh against the NDA government of which it is a partner”.

Without naming Mamata Banerjee, Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee said the Trinamul leader was also “one of the persons responsible for such a decision”. During her tenure as the railway minister, “she did nothing to stall the bifurcation move”.

“We have been telling all along that the bifurcation issue should not be seen in the interest of any individual but from a national perspective,” Bhattacharjee said.

The chief minister, who returned from a tour of South Africa yesterday, told mediapersons at Writers’ Buildings that it was “not clear” what Trinamul was up to. “It is hazy what Trinamul is doing and why at all it is doing anything. It is a partner of the NDA government and at the same time fighting against it. Two things cannot go together,” Bhattacharjee said.

“We shall oppose the proposed bandh on August 5 because we do not want to embitter relations between the people of our state and Bihar. Bifurcation of the railway has gone against West Bengal and some other states. An overview from the national perspective should have been taken before coming to a final decision at the Cabinet meeting. The Union government took such a decision on political compulsions,” he said.

The chief minister, who had earlier written to Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and met deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani urging them to stall the bifurcation, said: “I expected that new thought would emerge at the Cabinet where the issue was referred. Unfortunately, the Cabinet endorsed the plan of railway minister Nitish Kumar which has ultimately provoked provincial sentiments. If need be, I shall speak to Advani again.”

Bhattacharjee said the railway could have taken care of more important issues like improving safety and security, passengers’ amenities and infrastructure. “I do not understand what prompted the Union government to spend so much money on bifurcation by ignoring vital issues,” he added.

On Mamata urging the Left Front government to convene an all-party meeting and launch a joint movement, the chief minister said: “Let them first decide what they actually want to do. There is no scope for any joint movement unless they take a clear stand (on ties with the NDA).”

   

 
 
SHRINK AID FOR SUICIDE ZONE 
 
 
DEBASHIS CHATTOPADHYAY
 
Kulpi (South 24-Parganas) Aug. 1: 
A spate of dowry-related suicides by housewives here has spurred police to turn to psychoanalysts and sociologists to check the trend.

“In the past one year, we have had more than 36 housewives committing suicide in Kulpi area alone. All of them were in their thirties and from farming families,” said circle inspector Arun Majumdar.

Police records begin in July last year with the suicide of Nazira Bibi at Karimpur village. Malati Gayen of Gazipur followed the next month and Devi Naskar joined the list in September. The latest incident took place at Motinagar where 21-year-old Sabitri Haldar committed suicide on July 7, two years after her marriage.

In consultation with additional superintendent of police (rural) S.S. Panda, the circle inspector has initiated a social study on the trend.

Panda blamed television for adversely affecting villagers. “Young men from farming families crave for consumer items like refrigerators and colour TV as shown in advertisements. They then expect to get them as dowry. But when this does not happen, the men torture the wives till there is no other alternative for the women but to commit suicide,” he said.

“We are consulting psychoanalysts and are trying to bring them to the villages,” Panda added.

“This trend can be checked by creating awareness among villagers. Panchayat pradhans, MLAs and local clubs should come forward on the issue. Psychoanalysis can be offered individually or to groups,” said Protiva Sengupta, a psychologist.

“We try and make the husbands understand that after marriage, it is the responsibility of both partners to maintain peace in the family. No pressure should be exerted on women to bring luxury goods from their parents’ house.

“A newly married wife is also told that it is not her sole responsibility to please her husband. During a crisis, they should consult their parents and also convince their husbands that peace in the family is a joint responsibility,” the psychologist said.

   

 
 
COAL ROYALTY BLOW 
 
 
OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Calcutta, Aug. 1: 
The government today strongly reacted against the Centre’s decision to hike coal royalty but exclude Bengal from it.

Finance minister Asim Dasgupta said the Centre had increased the royalty from 12.76 per cent to 19 per cent but the hike would not be applicable to the state. “This is yet another glaring example of the Centre’s step-motherly attitude towards Bengal. It is not only unfair, but is also a violation of the Constitution. As a result of the hike in coal royalty, Bengal will lose Rs 300 crore in annual revenue,” he said.

The finance minister will raise the matter in the first meeting of the high-powered committee set up to study the financial status of states. The meeting is expected to be held next week.

Dasgupta said this is the third time that the Centre increased coal royalty but deprived Bengal. Earlier, the Centre had increased royalty in 1991 and 1994. “We have already lost Rs 2,500 crore in revenue since 1991,” he added.

The finance minister said the Centre had argued that Bengal was excluded from the purview of the royalty hike as the state collected cess on coal-bearing land. The state earns Rs 10 crore from royalty and Rs 500 crore from cess on coal-bearing land each year.

“According to the Constitution, a coal-yielding state has the right to realise royalty and cess separately. Since 1991, at least 10 letters were written by the chief minister and me to the Centre on this issue but they have gone unheeded,” he said.

   

 
 
DOGS BARK, COPS BITE DUST 
 
 
FROM OUR BUREAU
 
Siliguri, Aug. 1: 
Why did a crack commando team fail to catch militants holed up in a CPM leader’s house in Jalpaiguri last night? Because, claim the police, a pack of stray dogs barked.

Acting on a tipoff, the police commando team, led by Jalpaiguri superintendent of police S.N. Gupta, left for Barocota village under Samuktal police station last night.

Gupta said the police had “reliable” information that seven to eight militants of Ulfa and Kamtapur Liberation Organisation had intimidated Ramesh Das, a CPM leader and president of Parokata Anchal Pradeshik Krishak Sabha, into letting them stay in his house.

Before the police could begin to ring the village and raid the house, a pack of stray dogs began to howl. “These dogs gave us away. The militants got alerted and fled under cover of darkness,” Gupta said.

Few villagers, however, bought the police version. A village elder said it was not the dogs but the police’s incompetence that had helped the militants escape.

“Dogs always bark at the sight of strangers at night but the police have still managed to raid houses and arrest people in many villages,” said another resident.

This is the second time that militants hiding in Jalpaiguri have managed to give police the slip.

Though Gupta rebutted reports of exchange of fire between the security forces and the militants, unconfirmed sources said an exchange did take place.

   

 
 
CENTRE TURNS EDUCATION GUN ON BENGAL 
 
 
R.VENKATARAMAN
 
New Delhi, Aug. 1: 
The Centre today took on the West Bengal government in the Supreme Court with an “anti-national” question paper set for the state’s inter-school higher secondary test.

Solicitor-general Harish Salve presented the entire set of question papers for the year 1992 before a three-judge bench presided over by Justice M.B. Shah, and pointed out its “anti-national” tone.

During the hearing of a public interest litigation on “saffronisation” of education, Salve dramatically brought out a question paper and started reading it out aloud.

Students appearing for the Hindi (Group-A) second paper examination were asked to write an essay on any one of the following topics :

National unity and integrity are false political slogans

In Hindustan, there is no place for Hindu and Hindi

Five-year plans are a sham

Statistics on national development are a fraud

Democracy is a conspiracy

National revolution is the only way for progress

National means of broadcasting are useless

The students were also asked to write a précis of the following passage:

“The guardian of national politics… Delhi is a heartless administrative seat, on which sit not elected representatives of people, but anti-social poisonous snakes coming out of the caste jungle. Progress has been destroyed by tradition, education by the English medium, religion by political secularism, human beings by greed, idealism by dirty consumerism… Litterateurs have turned alcoholic, democratic representatives and administrators have become national villains, who only like secret accounts in foreign banks.”

A choice was given between writing the precis or expanding the following:

“Red Flag in Red Fort,

Is the demand of Hindustan.”

From the Hindi paper, Salve went to the mathematics paper set in the 1999-2000 annual examination for Class VI students in a Burdwan higher secondary school.

“How much money did Clinton give Atal and Pervez?” Salve started, when Justice Shah stopped the court room drama, telling him “not to read any more”.

The question that the solicitor-general was referring to, asked: “All right children, tell us how much money did Bill give Atal and Pervez?

“Three friends, Pervez, Atal and Bill went on a picnic. Pervez bought 750 grams of meat at Rs 120 a kg, Atal bought other food for Rs 75 and Bill gave some money to Atal and Pervez, so that their expenditure was equal. How much money did Atal and Pervez receive from Bill?”

Salve also attached BJP propaganda material against this question: “Marxists, who have reached ideological bankruptcy, are now targeting young students through education in West Bengal. They are making an attempt to sow poisonous seeds, reflective of their low thinking, into the consciousness of the children in Burdwan district of West Bengal…”

Salve will continue his arguments tomorrow before the three-judge bench, including Justice M.B. Shah, Justice D.M. Dharmadhikari and Justice H.K.Sema.

   

 
 
DISCUSSION MINUS VOTE ON RAIL DIVISION 
 
 
OUR BUREAU
 
Aug. 1: 
The Centre today agreed to the demand of the Congress and the Left parties for a Lok Sabha discussion on the creation of seven new railway zones across the country.

The discussion is scheduled for Monday under Rule 193 that does not entail voting.

The decision was taken at the Business Advisory Committee meeting called by Lok Sabha Speaker Manohar Joshi.

Though some members suggested that the bifurcation be clubbed with the discussion on the railway demand for grants, the Congress insisted on a separate debate.

The Trinamul Congress, which has been at the forefront of an agitation against the bifurcation of Eastern Railway, today said it was planning to bring a privilege notice against Samata Party MP Prabhunath Singh for making “baseless charges” against Mamata Banerjee.

Prabhunath, along with party colleague Rajeev Ranjan, had yesterday accused Banerjee of corruption during her tenure as railway minister. The Samata MP added that he had documents about deals she had struck and would expose her “very soon”.

Trinamul general secretary Mukul Roy said: “Our party MPs will go through the records of yesterday’s proceedings in the Lok Sabha to ascertain what the Samata Party member said. If they find from the records that he has really levelled this kind of charge against our leader, they will certainly serve a privilege notice on him.”

The Samata MP’s allegation had come after Banerjee said that railway minister Nitish Kumar was allowed to have his way on the bifurcation because he had helped the BJP “cover up the sins of Godhra”.

Prabhunath said Banerjee was raking up the Godhra issue to “cover up a scandal over railway supplies during her tenure” and promised to provide proof. Today, however, the party appeared to be backing off.

Sources said Kumar had admonished Prabhunath for levelling “baseless” charges against Banerjee. Asked for his comments, the railway minister said there was no substance in the allegations and it was “not in my knowledge”.

Trinamul MPs were not present in the Lok Sabha when Prabhunath had brought up the matter as they had been directed by Mamata to return to Calcutta to attend the party’s working committee meeting.

But the allegations evoked an angry reaction today. Partha Chatterjee, Trinamul MLA and a member of the party’s working committee, said: “Mamata’s personal honesty and integrity has always been above board. Her untarnished public image can hardly be affected by wild and unfounded allegations from an MP who himself is involved in a number of criminal cases.”

Sources said Mamata might take up the matter at her proposed dharna in front of Metro cinema tomorrow and bring counter-charges against Kumar, whom she blames for the bifurcation.

Trinamul legislators also described chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s refusal to call an all-party meeting on the issue as “unfortunate”.

“The chief minister has been in the habit of seeking the Opposition parties’ cooperation to resolve problems. However, he is refusing to cooperate with us on an issue which has assumed national dimensions,” they said.

The legislators appealed to the people to back the bandh on August 5 irrespective of their political allegiance. Trinamul workers held several street-corner protest meetings.

   

 
 
DELHI BID TO ALLAY SYLLABUS FEARS 
 
 
OUR LEGAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Aug. 1: 
The Centre today told the Supreme Court there had been no attempt to “saffronise” school textbooks nor was there any “hidden agenda” to indirectly introduce religion in the national curriculum framework for secondary education.

Solicitor-general Harish Salve, appearing for the Union ministry of human resources development, told a three-member bench of Justices M.B. Shah, D.M. Dharmadhikari and H.K. Sema that the changes in the national curriculum framework had been made according to recommendations of the standing committee report approved by Parliament and there had been no attempt to push in religion into the education system.

Salve said the standing committee, headed by S.B. Chavan, had recommended the inculcation of “moral values” in schools through the “basic tenets of religions”. He said Parliament had already approved the standing committee report and there was no need of referring it to the Central Advisory Board for Education.

A batch of public interest litigants, including those by social activist Aruna Roy and former editor of Indian Express and Hindustan Times B.G. Verghese, had accused the Centre of harbouring a “hidden agenda” in changing the syllabus. The petitioners contended that the advisory board was neither consulted on nor notified of the syllabus changes by the government.

Salve said the draft (changes) was discussed widely among academicians and several ex-officio members of the advisory board. There was no legal requirement to convene a meeting of a non-statutory body such as the CABE for the changes, he added.

Counsel for the petitioners C.S. Vaidyanathan argued that the advisory board was not consulted because the government’s intention was to “surreptitiously sneak” its “hidden agenda” into the educational system. He said the draft that was now being introduced as part of the curriculum had been prepared by Vidya Bharti, the RSS-backed educational institution.

   

 
 
NEHRU’S VOICE FOR SOFT IRON MAN 
 
 
OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Aug. 1: 
Lal Krishna Advani, who idolises Iron Man Sardar Patel, fell back on Jawaharlal Nehru today as he put his liberal face forward on Kashmir.

Kashmir is the “living symbol” of secular India, Advani said, quoting Nehru to make the point that it was an “inalienable part of this country”.

The deputy Prime Minister said Kashmir’s accession was both legal and constitutional. He spoke of India’s multi-ethnic, multi-cultural and multi-religious ethos and said the country would not allow it to be destroyed.

Advani was at his moderate best in the Rajya Sabha. Articulate and relaxed, he spelt out the government’s policy on Kashmir and set at rest fears of international observers monitoring elections in the state.

The minister carried the Opposition with him and pleased NDA allies with frequent references to India’s “secular Constitution”. He was replying to a short-duration discussion on Jammu and Kashmir.

This was in sharp contrast with the Gujarat discussion in the House last week, when Advani was ill at ease and was frequently interrupted by the Opposition benches. At one point, he had even sat down, saying that if the Opposition did not want to hear him out, he did not care to speak.

Advani was in his elements today, lashing out at Pakistan for using terror as an instrument of state policy and taking a populist view on the US. “We do not need any certificate from outsiders. Jammu and Kashmir is an inseparable part of India,” he said.

US secretary of state Colin Powell’s suggestions about appointing international observers for Kashmir elections had infuriated all parties, including the BJP. Advani assured the House that this suggestion was not acceptable to India.

The deputy Prime Minister said he had spoken to chief minister Farooq Abdullah in the morning and had been assured that polls would be free and fair. Abdullah was also willing to allow India-based envoys from foreign embassies as well as NGOs to witness the elections. The Centre has told the Election Commission that the polls should not only be free and fair, but also be convincingly so, he said.

The minister repeated India’s position that Pakistan has to destroy terrorist infrastructure, put in place over 30 years. He said he had told visiting American dignitaries that armed infiltration from Pakistan was not the only problem and that Islamabad must give up terrorism as part of its state policy.

The deputy Prime Minister said he agreed with members that India cannot depend on other countries to look after its interests. Advani also tried to suggest that Delhi was not relying on Washington to solve its problems.

Every country had its own national interest to look after and it was naive to expect others to help, he said. “Cross-border terrorism is our problem and not the problem of international community,” Advani added.

Advani assured the Opposition that the government would not go along with the RSS’ demand for trifurcation of Jammu and Kashmir. He said the Centre was ready to consider the autonomy demand and the Prime Minister had committed himself to devolution of power.

   

 
 
CRACKDOWN ON SURROGATE ADS 
 
 
SUJAN DUTTA
 
New Delhi, Aug. 1: 
The Centre has issued showcause notices on eight liquor brands for beaming surrogate advertisements on cable television channels. The government has also decided to appoint a private agency to police television channels and monitor the telecasting of surrogate advertisements.

An inter-ministerial committee has found advertisements for the brands, Kingfisher, Haywards 5000, Aristocrat ACP, 8p.m., Whitehall, Smirnoff, Royal Challenge, Royal Stag and Charms (cigarettes) promoting frivolous products that barely disguise the promotion of liquor.

This is the second round of showcause notices issued over the past fortnight.

In the first round, four channels — Sony, Aaj Tak, Zee and Star — were issued notices for telecasting surrogate advertisements for Gilbey’s Green Label, among other brands.

Sources in the information and broadcasting ministry said several complaints had poured in after the first round of showcause notices and the inter-ministerial committee has taken action based on these. Some of the complaints, in fact, have been made by rival channels. The notices have been issued under the Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act, 1995.

The sources said that if the channels and advertisers do not stop beaming the advertisements, the Centre is empowered to block the telecasting. However, it is arguable if the government really has the technology at its disposal yet to effectively block cable television signals.

Industry watchers say though the notices will be resented because they hit revenues, channels are likely to lie low for the time being and will not get into a row with the government at a time when broadcasters have so many issues with which to deal with the ministry, such as the Conditional Access Bill and a possible new policy on Direct To Home telecasting.

The sources said the decision to appoint a private agency — which could be a market research organisation — was taken because the government has concluded it did not have the mechanism to keep a watch on all channels.

The agency will be paid a fee to monitor all cable channels right down to the regional and local levels in all languages.

There are two committees, both convened by the Union information and broadcasting ministry, that monitors content on television.

The committee, comprising officers from the ministries of information and broadcasting, women and child development, health and law and a representative of the Advertising Standards Council of India, looks into violations of the advertising code.

The code prohibits advertising of liquor, tobacco and intoxicants.

   
 

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