Degree recognition row hits 100 MBBS students
Cong leader shot dead at home
Minister for REC rethink
Lock-up makeover for van
Tagore varsity enters Net
Drought tag on Purulia, Bankura
BJP push to dig up past for face-saver
Allies join scam chorus
Congress firm on probe
Pleas for pump favour know no barrier

 
 
DEGREE RECOGNITION ROW HITS 100 MBBS STUDENTS 
 
 
MITA MUKHERJEE AND SUNANDO SARKAR
 
Calcutta, Aug. 7: 
A hundred medical students who have enrolled in the MBBS course in two colleges this year stare at the prospect of passing out with a degree, but unrecognised by the Medical Council of India.

Bankura Sammilani Medical College (BSMC) and North Bengal Medical College — notwithstanding a directive from the Union health ministry to admit only 50 students each — have enrolled 100 each after making the 50 students at the bottom end of each college sign bonds, stating that they were aware of the consequences of filling up seats that the MCI had threatened not to recognise.

Both colleges were asked by the director-general of health services to roll back the number of admissions to 50 each following an MCI report that found serious deficiencies in their infrastructure.

In what has become an embarrassment to the state government, now on a health-reforms drive, the director-general of health services, S.K. Rao, wrote: “The executive committee of the Medical Council of India, noting deficiencies, has not recommended renewal for permission to admit the increased number of students.” He also requested the state health department to “rectify and repair” the deficiencies “at the earliest”.

State health department officials are, however, confident that things will turn out all right for the students. “We have already started working on the deficiencies and are confident that the Union government will withdraw the scale-down order,” said director of medical education Chittaranjan Maiti.

“Students have been asked to sign the bonds as the seats they are filling up are, technically, not recognised by the MCI at this point,” Maiti said. “But we are confident that the seats will be regularised once the MCI is satisfied with our work,” he added.

Though neither BSMC principal Vakil Ahmed nor the North Bengal college students’ section-in-charge, Pradip Ray, would not comment on the issue given its “sensitivity”, officials of both colleges admitted that the MCI inspection team, which visited the campuses in April, was “extremely dissatisfied” with the infrastructure.

The MCI report on BSMC gives a long list of lacunae in infrastructure though it does not mention anything adverse about teaching activities. The report on the other college was similar in nature, officials said.

Health department officials admitted that rectifying the deficiencies would take “a lot of time and money” and it would be impossible to complete the process very soon. “But the government feels that it can use its influence in Delhi to convince the Union ministry and the MCI of its good intentions,” a senior official said, explaining why the government still took in 100 students each.

But the move, he admitted, defeated the very purpose of the MCI rules framed a decade ago to discourage populist measures of increasing enrolments or setting up new medical colleges without adequate infrastructure. The council, while formulating the rules, had kept in mind the “combined pressure from colleges, students and their families” (rule 10A of MCI regulations) that would follow disciplinary measures, officials said.

   

 
 
CONG LEADER SHOT DEAD AT HOME 
 
 
A STAFF REPORTER
 
Barasat, Aug. 7: 
The block president of North 24-Parganas Congress was today killed before his family here.

The assailants had surrounded the house of Arunabha Ghosh, 45, in a congested area near Duttapukur railway station and shot him from point-blank range. The killers fled before his family or neighbours could raise an alarm. The Congress leader died on way to hospital.

As news of the murder spread, local shop-owners downed their shutters while Congress supporters squatted on railway tracks. Train services were disrupted for more than three hours from 9 am. The blockade was lifted when additional superintendent of police Rahul Srivastav assured the activists that the killers would be arrested within 24 hours.

The district Congress has called a 24-hour bandh in Duttapukur tomorrow.

The police said the killing followed a land dispute in which the Congress leader was involved. “Ghosh, a local cable operator, had sour relations with local goon Moloy Dutta over the dispute. Dutta was recently arrested in connection with a dacoity and is now in jail,” said a police official.

District Congress president Debi Ghoshal blamed the CPM for the killing. “Ghosh was trying to keep the area free from the clutches of some CPM-backed gangsters. The rivals murdered Ghosh to wipe out the Congress from Duttapukur and its adjoining areas,” Ghoshal said.

Ghosh’s murder took place a few hours prior to a scheduled public meeting called by the district Congress leaders to protest against the alleged atrocities by CPM-backed miscreants and the deteriorating law and order in the district.

Six masked men, armed with firearms and daggers, had stormed into the ground floor veranda of the victim’s two-storey house. They first bolted the door of the room where Ghosh’s 72-year-old father was getting ready to offer private lessons. The assailants also locked the collapsible gate of the main entrance.

“Soon after my father-in-law raised an alarm, I came out only to be hit by a youth with the butt of a revolver. I fell on the floor. I could not raise an alarm as the two standing in the veranda had their guns trained on me,” said Mita Ghosh, the deceased leader’s wife. “I knew they would kill my husband.”

On hearing the commotion, Ghosh emerged from the bathroom only to be shot dead.

   

 
 
MINISTER FOR REC RETHINK 
 
 
A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Aug. 7: 
Higher education minister Satya Sadhan Chakraborty today summoned the principal of Regional Engineering College in Durgapur to Calcutta, directing him to identify those involved in Friday’s protest and to withdraw the suspension order on the 450 second-year students.

The students were suspended for preventing the minister from inaugurating a new hostel and a lecture hall on the campus. They were protesting against the government’s decision not to accept the Centre’s proposal to declare REC as a National Institute of Technology.

Chakraborty said he asked REC principal S.P. Ghosh to discuss the issue with college teachers and take measures to revoke the suspension order on innocent students.

The minister said some six boys had tried to stop his car when he was leaving the college guesthouse on Friday evening. “Some of the students were adamant and refused to listen to any pleas. But I feel that there is no need to punish such a large number of students as I am sure so many of them were not involved in the incident.”

The minister, however, pointed out that he never condoned “acts of violence” by students. At the same time, he would not support the college authorities’ decision to punish innocent students. “I have asked the principal to find out the ringleaders as soon as possible and submit a report to me.”

He said a mass suspension would mean a loss of a year, damaging the career prospects of a large body of students.

The minister reiterated that even as the government welcomed the Centre’s move to give the status of National Institute of Technology to REC, it would oppose the Union government’s attempts to gradually establish full administrative control on the college.

He said “disregarding” the original terms and conditions set down in 1960 when 17 regional engineering colleges were set up, the Centre recently decided to directly control the appointment of candidates to two key posts, namely the chairman of REC board of governors and its director.

Chakraborty pointed out that his government was also against the Centre’s plan to drastically reduce the number of members from the state in the REC board of governors.

He said the Centre was also planning to usurp the state government’s power in the admission of students from Bengal to the college.

“The 160 acre on which the present REC campus was set up in 1960 has been sponsored by the state government. The state also bears a number of liabilities like the maintenance of roads, electrical connections and the boundary walls of the college. We will not allow the Centre now to deprive the students of this state from availing education in the college in this way,” Chakraborty said.

In Durgapur, a section of the teachers said the mass suspension was too “harsh a decision”, reports our correspondent.

“The principal is now saying that the punishment was for not attending classes and for entering into a scuffle with the seniors,” a teacher said.

While the principal refused to comment any more, it was learnt that the college authorities had set up an inquiry committee to find out the students involved in the protest against the minister.

The secretary of the apolitical students’ union, Jaideep Chattoraj, said a delegation had met the principal to urge him to withdraw the suspension order.

   

 
 
LOCK-UP MAKEOVER FOR VAN 
 
 
ALAMGIR HOSSAIN
 
Berhampore, Aug. 7: 
A rerun of the Malda lock-up deaths is set to happen in Murshidabad district.

An old prison van continues to serve as a lock-up for undertrials in Murshidabad district sessions judge’s court just as it has been for the past 25 years.

The incident came to the notice of powers-that-be after two accused died of suffocation in a overcrowded court lock-up in Malda recently.

After raids when petty criminals are detained, they are crammed into a 20 feet by nine feet windowless lock-up.

A small square hole near the roof serves as a “ventilator.” A police officer attached to the court said when the rooms get full during mass raids, the extra detainees are kept in the police vans. When this too gets full, the detainees are shoved into the cycle stand in the court. “A Malda-like incident can happen anytime here if things are not improved,” he added.

Another lock-up in the district sessions judge’s court has never been used due to its unsafe and faulty construction. There are neither public urinals nor drinking water taps in the court complex. As a result, both undertrials and litigants have to ease themselves in the open court area and buy water from vendors.

“We, lawyers, had organised several protest meetings in the past and even boycotted proceedings in the court to demand proper lock-ups for detainees. But the district authorities have not responded till now,” said Kishalay Sengupta, the president of the Berhampore Bar Association.

Jagannath Mandal, a senior police constable who has ferried detainees daily from the prison to the district sessions court for the past five years, admitted that prisoners were kept in the old police van in the absence of a proper lock-up. “I have to let some of them out of the van when they want to relieve themselves. I know it is risky to let them out but what can one do when you see the pathetic suffering,” he said.

The conditions are no better in other courts in the district. The sub-divisional judicial magistrate’s court in Berhampore has a small dilapidated lock-up which has no toilet or provisions for potable water.

Following last week’s suffocation deaths in Malda, Murshidabad’s chief judicial magistrate Brindaban Mandal has been making the rounds of different courts to find out the state of lock-ups in the district. Mandal is scheduled to submit a report on the condition of court lock-ups in the district to the Calcutta High Court.

   

 
 
TAGORE VARSITY ENTERS NET 
 
 
OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Santiniketan, Aug. 7: 
A Korean student of Patha Bhavan will click the launch of Visva-Bharati’s website on Baishe Srabon tomorrow — Rabindranath Tagore’s death anniversary.

In keeping with the Nobel Laureate’s vision that his varsity will reach out to the world, the website will contain information about Tagore and Visva-Bharati.

“But this is not the final form (of the website),” vice-chancellor Sujit K. Basu said at a newsconference today. “We will start accepting feedback about our institution as soon as those features are incorporated.”

The website is being prepared by the same firm that helped Jadavpur University find its way to the worldwide web.

The university has other e-plans. “We will devise ways to allow students to interact with teachers on the Net,” Basu said, adding that it would even be possible to get clarifications on class notes.

   

 
 
DROUGHT TAG ON PURULIA, BANKURA 
 
 
STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Aug. 7: 
Purulia and parts of Bankura were today declared drought-hit.

The government made the announcement after a meeting at Writers’ Buildings where a report of the agriculture department team that visited the districts was discussed.

“It is worse than the drought of 1980,” said finance minister Asim Dasgupta.

“I will raise the issue with the Union finance minister when I meet him on Friday. We have already decided to release Rs 5 crore towards tackling the situation,” he added on the eve of leaving the capital.

Only 10 per cent of the crop in the 20 blocks of Purulia will survive, said agriculture department secretary N.K.S. Jhala who, along with director of agriculture N.K. Trivedi, had gone to the affected areas four days ago.

“Seven blocks in Bankura are in a similar condition. Reports are coming in from Paschim Midnapore which indicate that four blocks there have been similarly hit,” Jhala added.

   

 
 
BJP PUSH TO DIG UP PAST FOR FACE-SAVER 
 
 
OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Aug. 7: 
With the heat turned fully on the BJP in the petrol-pumps scam and the government on the backfoot, party MPs have launched a half-hearted measure to counter the Opposition campaign.

They have started a signature campaign demanding that if the government orders an inquiry, 1983 should be treated as the cut-off year to investigate allotments of petrol pumps and gas agencies. They also want every dealership given to a political leader’s kin from that year onwards scrapped.

The idea is to bring the Congress into the inquiry’s “radar”, BJP sources said, adding that “revelations of the Congress’ misdeeds” might neutralise the negative fallout of the press exposes on the BJP.

The controversy is threatening to snowball into a “mega scam” with regional papers beginning to spill the beans on alleged out-of-turn allotments. An Andhra paper alleged that BJP central minister Ch Vidyasagar Rao cornered the bulk of the petrol pumps in the state.

A Bangalore-based paper reported that relatives of senior Karnataka leader B.S. Yediyurappa were the major beneficiaries. The Madhya Pradesh press is reportedly gathering dirt from the districts.

A draft letter to Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee — circulated among MPs for their signature — said: “We urge upon you to order an inquiry in all allotments made under the dealership selection board (DSB) system from 1983 and cancel every dealership allotted to a relation of sitting or ex MP and MLAs or party functionaries.”

There was a view in the BJP that had party workers gained from the allocation, there would have been no scope for attack. “They are not in the public glare and the system would have had the appearance of being fair. After all these workers who serve the party with dedication for years get no reward so this would have been a good enough one,” said sources.

The draft letter praised the Prime Minister’s decision to cancel all allotments since June 2000. “Even though all procedures had been followed, there are allegations that several party functionaries and leaders have obtained dealership by exercising influence on the dealer selection boards though there is nothing to indicate any influence,” it said.

But the MPs also said the scrapping would cause “severe financial hardship and loss of business for many innocent persons who had been selected by duly constituted boards in a fair manner”.

The draft charged the Congress regime with “favouring” the “handpicked nominees” of ministers. “One can only imagine what type of fairness will be there is selections made by such a DSB when there was no representative from the oil companies,” it said.

   

 
 
ALLIES JOIN SCAM CHORUS 
 
 
KAY BENEDICT
 
New Delhi, Aug. 7: 
The NDA government, under pressure from the Opposition which is gunning for petroleum minister Ram Naik and demanding a CBI probe into the allotment of petrol pumps, faced further embarrassment as some allies joined the protest chorus.

Samata Party MP Prabhunath Singh, considered close to railway minister Nitish Kumar, has demanded the resignation of the Prime Minister while Telugu Desam Party member Umareddy Venkateswarlu welcomed the cancellation of the allotments and at the same time sought a high-level probe. Janata Dal (U) deputy leader in the Lok Sabha Devendra Prasad Yadav demanded a CBI probe, saying the scam had tarnished the NDA’s image.

Prabhunath, a member of the standing committee on petroleum and a beneficiary of the scam as his relative figured on the list of beneficiaries, told a television channel that the sweeping scrapping of the quotas by Vajpayee was an admission of guilt. “As a result, Vajpayee has lost the moral right to remain in the chair and he should resign,” Singh said.

Yadav told The Telegraph he and half-a-dozen other MPs had brought to the Prime Minister’s notice the “largescale” irregularities in allotments as early as March 14, 2001. He had sought immediate action, but Vajpayee just acknowledged their letter and did not act on it as is evident from the fraud unearthed by the press, he added.

“The name of Vajpayee’s relative allegedly figuring in one of the allotments is not only a matter of concern, but unfortunate,” Yadav said.

He sought Naik’s role to be brought under the ambit of a probe and stringent action taken against all found guilty.

He, too, felt that the cancellation established largescale bungling. It was not proper for the BJP to say there was no irregularity in the deals, he said, asking that if everything was in order, why were the allotments cancelled.

Worried over the fallout of the scam on the ruling coalition, the Telugu Desam parliamentary party discussed the issue. It welcomed Vajpayee’s prompt decision to scrap all the allotments since 2000 and demanded a high-level inquiry into the matter.

The Samata Party afforded Vajpayee some relief by seeking to distance itself from Prabhunath’s stand. Spokesperson Shambu Shrivastwa said: “I have no comments on what he has said. As far as we are concerned, we have welcomed the decision of the Prime Minister. He has set high standards of morality in public life.”

   

 
 
CONGRESS FIRM ON PROBE 
 
 
OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Aug. 7: 
The Congress today insisted on its demand for a commission of inquiry by a Supreme Court judge to look into the entire ambit of petrol pump and LPG dealership allotments, unfazed by the BJP’s campaign to hit back at the main Opposition party on the petrol pump scam.

“It is a multi-dimensional scam. Let there be a judicial probe across the spectrum,” said AICC spokesman Jaipal Reddy.

Congress leader Kamal Nath laughed off the BJP charge that some senior Congress leaders, including Manmohan Singh and Oscar Fernandes, had recommended cases to petroleum minister Ram Naik. “How many of these recommendations were honoured?” Nath asked, wondering why the BJP was trying to strike back when there was nothing against Congress leaders.

“Perhaps some leaders had to recommend genuine persons who were getting petrol pumps due to gross injustice and fraud,” Nath said.

Privately, many senior leaders who had written recommendation letters said it was part of the routine. “As MPs we are expected to write such letters but it for the ministry to check (the) credentials and judge them keeping in view (the) norms and procedures,” said a former Union minister.

Reddy alleged that the BJP was shying from ordering a judicial probe. “They have so much to hide, therefore they are avoiding investigations,” he said.

Reddy said Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s move to cancel the allotment of petrol pumps and LPG dealerships was a “political gimmick” because it was not backed by a judicial investigation.

“Unless evidence of fraud is gathered, the order may not be legally sustainable,” he said, articulating the party’s position.

Naik should go on “immoral grounds” having committed large-scale irregularities, the spokesman said, adding that the Congress would continue to block parliamentary proceedings unless the petroleum minister resigned and a judicial probe was ordered.

   

 
 
PLEAS FOR PUMP FAVOUR KNOW NO BARRIER 
 
 
JAYANTA ROY CHOWDHURY
 
New Delhi, Aug. 7: 
The BJP today hit back at political rivals, leaking letters written by Opposition leaders requesting petroleum minister Ram Naik to help their candidates get licences for a petrol pump or a gas agency.

Interestingly, many of the Opposition leaders had asked favours for people who certainly did not belong to their constituencies.

Leading the list is a letter from Manmohan Singh, Assam MP and leader of the Opposition in the upper House, requesting Naik to favourably consider an application for a petrol pump by Swinder Kaur, a lady lecturer in a women’s college in Nawanshahr.

Sources close to the petroleum minister claimed that Naik wrote back to the former finance minister saying he had no hand in the selection process, as discretionary quotas had been scrapped.

However, BJP sources could not say for sure whether these Opposition candidates ever got an allotment. “The Oil Selection Board would know, not our minister,” was their constant refrain.

Former Madhya Pradesh chief minister Motilal Vora, who, too, had written a letter for one Mohammed Javed of Rajnandgaon, Jharkhand, claimed he had forgotten all about the letter, written about a year and a half ago.

“Kitne aate hain, hum log tho chitti sabko bhejdete hain (Many people come and we give everyone a letter). It’s no crime to write a letter…” Vora said.

“Insab se unki daman ki daag dhulegi nahin, yeh sab tho besharmi ka sahara lena hain (This will not wash away the dirt that has stuck to them. They are now trying to take recourse to underhand dealings),” he added.

Congressmen who could be contacted seemed to have decided what to say beforehand.

Cachar strongman Santosh Mohan Dev, a former Congress steel minister, said he had forgotten all about the letter he had written for Madhuparna Patra, “a lady, I must have come to know when I was in charge of the Congress election campaign in Orissa”.

Dev defended himself, saying such letters were a routine practice. “I have not approached the oil selection board chief, then it would have been a crime. These kinds of letters are written even by US senators who ask for favours for US companies or citizens, but ministers take their own decision on merit,” he added.

Former Congress petroleum minister K. Ramamurthy, who is from Tamil Nadu, also wrote a letter asking for a petrol pump dealership for one S. Mahalakshmi of Chittoor district of Andhra Pradesh.

BJP sources said it was surprising that so many MPs wrote asking for favours for people who obviously did not belong to their constituencies. “It would have made sense if they asked for help for their voters. But why outsiders?” they asked.

However, CPM leader Basudeb Acharya, an MP from Bankura, described a letter written in Hindi for a dealership for one Kamal Kumar of Bulandhahr, purportedly written by him, as a “forgery”.

Acharya said he had written to Naik only twice. Once he had requested him to look into demands by local residents for setting up a petrol pump in a village in Malda. The other time he had asked him to consider a 20 per cent concession for cooking gas connections for handicapped children requested by the Society for Mental Health Care.

An agitated Acharya, who is usually irrepressible in Parliament, said: “They have looted thousands of crores (of rupees) and now they are trying to hoodwink the people ... It won’t work.”

   
 

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