Lecturer unites CPM friends, foes in Left bastion
Mamata hits left, right
Outcry over capitation fee for MBBS
Strike threat to REC
Health helpline
Biswas turns down Cong bandh hand
Split spectre looms large on NDA allies
Cong digs for dirt on Big Two
BJP springs new list of pump allotments
Funds hike plan unites warring MPs

Calcutta, Aug. 9: 
Unknown to himself, Kaushik Ganguly — lodged in a Midnapore jail and being intermittently shuttled to Calcutta hospitals — has done what Mamata Banerjee always advocated but somehow never achieved.

An absent Ganguly, lecturer at the University College of Science at Rajabazar and arrested for alleged links with People’s War, has done to the CPM what it has never been forced to go through in any forum.

The CPM’s partners in the ruling combine — in a move earlier unthinkable — came together with opposition representatives in a “grand alliance” to force the Left Front-controlled West Bengal College and University Teachers’ Association (WBCUTA) to take steps that were actively opposed by CPM representatives.

Finding things not going their way, CPM teacher-leaders did what the opposition has been doing in the state for the past 25 years. One of them — the most influential CPM representative in the WBCUTA, a formidable lobby that can make or mar policy moves and has contributed a higher education minister to the Cabinet — left the meeting midway. The others who stayed behind gave his absence as the excuse for being “unable to continue further”.

It all happened at the WBCUTA executive committee meeting on Wednesday. Originally convened to discuss pay and pension, the meeting steered clear of them and got down to deliberate on the government’s “treatment” of a colleague and the WBCUTA’s deafeningly silent reaction.

The meeting started at 5 pm and continued till well past 9.30 pm with all efforts — and pleas — by CPM members for a “face-saving consensus” failing.

Those who took the lead in forcing the issue belonged to the CPI, the RSP and the Forward Bloc, all partners of the CPM in governance. Teacher-leaders of these parties supported moves initiated by those belonging to the Trinamul Congress, the SUCI, the Congress and the erstwhile Janata group to bring up the Ganguly issue, setting the ball rolling for a never-before occurrence.

The executive committee, comprising more than 35 members, is dominated by Left representatives. But like the composition of the present Assembly, it’s a seesaw battle if non-CPM front partners team up with the opposition, say senior WBCUTA insiders.

The latter vociferously protested the moment CPM sympathisers sought to raise pay-related matters, saying the Ganguly issue was far more “important and relevant” now.

Despite fierce opposition from CPM teacher-leaders, they forced the executive committee to come to a decision that no one thought the WBCUTA, comprising more than 14,000 members, was capable of taking. A separate five-member committee was formed to draft a letter that would be sent to the government.

The letter that was drafted became a greater embarrassment for the CPM. The letter raised some prickly issues: Ganguly’s arrest without a warrant, police excesses and the alleged human-rights violations in custody.

The draft was produced before the executive committee and a “very senior CPM leader”, finding no other alternative to stall the move, left the meeting. Taking the cue, his supporters said “it was too late and pointless” to discuss the issue and it was decided that the committee would discuss the matter on Saturday.

Saturday’s meeting, however, may not come off at all with WBCUTA general secretary Anil Bhattacharya (a CPM candidate in the last Lok Sabha polls) due to come back to Calcutta the same morning and scheduled to leave the city within a few hours, say members of the teachers’ body.

But if it does come off, the CPM may find itself in a sticky situation with even the front partners unwilling to back off after a “significant victory”, they add.


Jhargram, Aug. 9: 
The BJP-led Centre and the Left Front government in Bengal were the twin targets of Mamata Banerjee at a rally here this afternoon.

Addressing the meeting on the occasion of the 60th anniversary of “Quit India” movement, the Trinamul Congress leader ruled out any compromise on her stir against the bifurcation of Eastern Railway. She urged the people to get ready for a “long and sustained battle to save the state’s economy threatened by the railway minister’s move”.

“We will fight against the Centre’s step-motherly attitude towards Bengal and the state government’s atrocities on our party workers,” she said.

Mamata said she would meet President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam “as a last resort to prevent the bifurcation if our dharna in front of the Prime Minister’s residence on Monday fails to evoke any response”. “If the President does not respond favourably, our movement will be a long and sustained one,” she added.

Turning her guns on the Left Front, the Trinamul chairperson said the arrest of villagers in tribal areas of West Midnapore was a ploy to make the area “opposition-free” before the panchayat polls.

Without naming Avijit Sinha, the excise official who committed suicide, and lecturer Kaushik Ganguly, who were arrested for alleged links with the People’s War, Mamata said no one could condone the police torture on them.

“When such things take place, who can rest in peace?” she asked.

The Trinamul chairperson warned that the state government could not deter her supporters from fighting the CPM’s atrocities. “The railways are going, the coal is gone, what will remain in the state are jails which will be filled by us,” Mamata said.


Calcutta, Aug. 9: 
Two medical bodies have opposed the government’s move to introduce capitation fees for admission to three new medical institutions to be set up shortly in the state.

The government has indicated that 50 per cent of the 350 new medical seats in the proposed colleges at Midnapore and Malda as well as at SSKM Hospital will be for students who pay a hefty amount.

“The government could have enhanced the annual fees. But introducing capitation fee is unjust. Meritorious students from low-income families will miss out due to this decision. We will shortly meet government officials to discuss the issue,” said Subir Ganguly, India Medical Association’s Bengal branch president.

The president of the West Bengal Medical Council, Ashok Chowdhury, has described the development as “undesirable.”

At present, a student has to pay Rs 212 as session charges for the five-year MBBS course and nothing at the time of admission. Of the 905 seats in the seven existing colleges, 540 seats are in the general category while the remaining seats are mainly reserved for the Scheduled Castes (22 per cent), the Scheduled Tribes (6 per cent) and all-India candidates (15 per cent).

“After all the reservations and now with the introduction of capitation fees, a middle class student who fares well in the JEE will not be able to get admission to the new medical colleges. As it stands now, only 540 students in the general category could make the cut this year. We were told that the new colleges would accommodate more students from the general category,” an IMA spokesman said.

According to the rules being envisaged for the new colleges, 35 per cent of the seats will be for students with lower rankings in the JEE while 15 per cent will be reserved for children of NRIs.

The students will have to cough up a proposed Rs 1.5 lakh each for admission to the colleges as well as for each session of the course. These candidates will not have to appear for the JEE but can join for a payment of Rs 30 lakh for the entire course.

“If things work out well, we may introduce capitation fee from the 2004 session in some other colleges as well,” said a health department official.

“Gone are the days when medical education was available for a handful of rupees. We have to keep up with the changing times,” said director of medical education C.R. Maity.

Though a recent Supreme Court verdict approves introduction of capitation fees, Maity said it was not mandatory. “But we will implement it in the state.”

State CPM secretary Anil Biswas justified the move, saying medical education could not be imparted for “as low as Rs 12.” Expenses have gone up and will go up further, he added. “In order to meet this resource crunch, we will have to introduce this system. But the changes will not make such education go out of reach of common people.”

Capitation fees for medical education in other states are charged by private institutions. “Bengal will perhaps be the first state where government colleges will be doing so,” said the president of the West Bengal Medical Council.


Durgapur, Aug. 9: 
The Students’ Federation of India (SFI) today issued an ultimatum to the Regional Engineering College here to revoke the suspension of the second-year students within a week or face an agitation.

“We held an independent probe into the August 2 blockade of higher education minister Satya Sadhan Chakraborty by some students. There are indications that the students were provoked by a section of teachers,” alleged state SFI secretary Apurba Chatterjee.

Chatterjee pointed out that only a handful of second-year students took part in the agitation, adding that the move was certainly provoked by a section of teachers out to embarrass the government. “Why weren’t students from other batches involved in the agitation? Something is just not right here,” the student leader said.

He added that their probe revealed that some 70 second-year students had gathered for the inauguration of a new building at the college that day and even a smaller number were involved in the blockade.

“We fail to see why the college authorities have not reacted to the statements by chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee and the higher education minister,” Chatterjee said.

The SFI also condemned the principal for being away on leave at this time. The college opens its doors to a new batch of students on August 16.

The college’s apolitical students’ union has refused to cooperate with the inquiry committee set up to identify those involved in the agitation against the minister.

“We do not want to get involved in this investigation as we have decided not to be a part of the witch-hunt,” said Jaideep Chattoraj, the union secretary.

The SFI has also demanded that instead of college deans, who comprise the inquiry committee, members of the governing body conduct the probe. The higher education minister is the chairman of the REC governing body.


Calcutta, Aug. 9: 
The health and family welfare department will inaugurate a toll-free telephone helpline on common diseases and their treatment.

Director of health services Prabhakar Chatterjee said experts would reply to questions on diseases and disorders like cancer, tuberculosis, leprosy, psychiatric and adolescence problems, family planning methods and abortion among others.

To be inaugurated by health minister Suryakanta Mishra on August 22, the help-line “is mainly a new exercise to build awareness about common ailments”, Chatterjee said. “The helpline will also give advice on healthy lifestyles, hygiene and even advantages of breast-feeding.”

The number of the helpline will be announced on the day of its inauguration. The Family Planning Association of India, a Mumbai-based NGO, will be assisting the health department in the venture.

“One main benefit of the helpline will be that the callers can remain anonymous. This will help individuals or couples to come forward with problems they would otherwise have hesitated to talk about at the hospital outdoor department in front of other patients,” the health official said. A set of frequently asked questions has been prepared. “The answers to these questions will be given at once by those responding to the calls. The experts will also address questions asked outside this list. If the answer is not known, the caller will be asked to phone again the next day.”


Calcutta, Aug. 9: 
The CPM today turned down the Congress’ proposals to organise an all-party Bengal bandh against the Centre’s decision to bifurcate Eastern Railway and to hold a protest meet during L.K. Advani’s visit to the city next month.

The state Congress had yesterday proposed the bandh and the demonstration as the deputy Prime Minister had assured an all-party delegation from the state that the Centre would reconsider the bifurcation move.

CPM state secretary Anil Biswas today said his party would not like to organise a bandh along with the Trinamul Congress. “An all-party bandh means the participation of Trinamul. But the party is still with the NDA. How can we organise a bandh with Trinamul which is playing a dual role on the bifurcation issue?” he asked.

He added that the party also did not believe in demonstrations against an individual.


New Delhi, Aug. 9: 
Prospects of a split are looming large over at least three constituents of the National Democratic Alliance — the Samata Party, the Biju Janata Dal and the Janata Dal (United).

While differences within the Samata have been accentuated by the petroleum scam, crisis has gripped the BJD following today’s suspension of three Lok Sabha MPs who were plotting to split the 10-member party and join hands with former minister H.D. Deve Gowda’s Janata Dal (Secular).

Dal (U) deputy leader Devendra Prasad Yadav, who has of late been a strident critic of the government and the BJP’s actions in Gujarat and Ayodhya and sought a CBI probe into the petrol scam, is in touch with Laloo Prasad Yadav.

Sources said the Dal (U) leader is angling for one more MP to split the six-member party.

Last month, Laloo had split the Dal (U)’s 12-member legislature party in the Bihar Assembly. Four members had joined the Rashtriya Janata Dal.

Senior Samata MP Prabhunath Singh, who had demanded Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s resignation for scrapping all petrol pump and gas dealership licences given since January 2000, today reiterated his stand.

He even wrote a hard-hitting letter to party chief V.V. Krishna Rao, who had served him with a showcause notice.

Sources close to Singh said he was in touch with three other Samata MPs and that the group is thinking of splitting the 13-member parliamentary party. However, they may not leave NDA immediately.

BJP sources said the Opposition, taking the cue from Singh, changed tack yesterday to demand Vajpayee’s resignation. BJP leaders, the sources added, complained to NDA convener George Fernandes and Singh was promptly asked to explain.

Singh today stuck to his stand that if at all anybody had to resign on the petrol pump issue, it should be the Prime Minister, not petroleum minister Ram Naik.

He further sought to embarrass the government by alleging that a well-known industrial group was behind the controversy to keep the middle classes out of this business.

In a hard-hitting, six-page reply to his party chief, Singh said that though there was no bungling in allotments, their cancellation by the Prime Minister could be construed as acceptance of irregularities.

“When there is some bungling at the government level, the responsibility is collective and this government is headed by Vajpayee. If there is any talk of resignation, then the Prime Minister should resign,” he said in his letter.


New Delhi, Aug. 9: 
Rattled by the BJP’s strikeback, the Congress has begun digging up the past to collect data on whether Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and his deputy, L.K. Advani, made recommendations for petroleum dealerships as Opposition leaders.

Sources say Sonia Gandhi is of the view that the BJP leadership should not be spared even if it means that some party leaders have to lose their petrol pump or LPG dealership licences.

The Congress chief, according to the sources, has told some party leaders that the BJP hounded her late husband, Rajiv Gandhi, on Bofors when there was no credible evidence. So, nobody should be allowed to get away scot-free in the petrol pump scam.

The mudslinging is in full swing, with the BJP releasing a list of Congress beneficiaries from Madhya Pradesh, Haryana, Maharashtra and Chhattisgarh. The list includes close relatives of Bhajan Lal, Shankarrao Chavan, Shivraj Patil, Shyama Charan Shukla, Suresh Kalmadi and Arvind Netam, among others.

Emotions ranged from anger to rage at a lunch that Manmohan Singh hosted, ostensibly to mobilise support for Sushil Kumar Shinde, the Opposition’s vice-presidential nominee. The Congress, the Left and third front constituents were unanimous that the “dirty campaign” should be countered and the Opposition should not submit to the “politics of blackmail”.

CPM MP Somnath Chatterjee and Samajwadi Party leaders Mulayam Singh Yadav and Amar Singh were prominent among those who endorsed the aggressive line in Sonia’s presence.

Chatterjee accused the government of not taking any initiative to end the Parliament impasse on the scam and said his party would oppose any plans to adjourn both Houses sine die before the session ends on August 14. His party colleague Basudeb Acharya echoed him, saying: “The leader of the House (the Prime Minister) is not in the House. There is no effort from the government to end the impasse.”

The Congress, which has been demanding a probe by a sitting Supreme Court judge, today dared the Vajpayee regime to cancel the allotment of petrol pumps and LPG dealerships to party leaders. Responding to the BJP’s demand that all allotments since 1983 should be probed, AICC spokesman Satyavrat Chaturvedi said: “Why not since 1947?”

“The question is what is preventing the BJP government from going ahead with a probe?” he asked. “We have nothing to hide. Why is it resorting to dirty tricks releasing lists without ordering a probe?”

Sources say Congress leaders want Sonia to hit back at Vajpayee and Advani. They said a suggestion has come to release letters of recommendations written by Vajpayee and Advani when the Congress was in power. “If they can malign a person like Manmohan Singh, why should we spare them?” a Congress MP asked Sonia.

However, not everyone in the Congress is in favour of a confrontation. The old guard wants Sonia to “de-escalate”. But the younger elements are putting pressure on Sonia not to pay heed to them, as many former Union ministers during the Congress era had benefited from the licence-quota raj.


New Delhi, Aug. 9: 
Stepping up its offensive in the petrol pump scam, the BJP today released fresh names of Congress leaders and officials from many states, including Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra, who benefited from allotments made during that party’s regime.

The prominent names on the BJP list were: Shailesh Patil Chakoorkar, son of Latur MP and former Speaker Shivraj Patil; Laxman Singh, Madhya Pradesh chief minister Digvijay Singh’s brother and a Lok Sabha MP; Shailendra Singh, Congress leader Arjun Singh’s nephew; Suresh Kalmadi, Rajya Sabha MP; Avinash Desai, a “close associate” of former finance minister Madhu Dandavate; and the daughter-in-law of Congress MP and former Madhya Pradesh chief minister Motilal Vora whose name was not given.

Throwing the gauntlet at Sonia Gandhi at a press briefing, BJP parliamentary party spokesman V.K. Malhotra said: “She will have to answer if all these persons have committed a crime by accepting these allotments and if they have, will she ask them to voluntarily surrender them?” If they did not, the BJP would start a countrywide campaign by releasing the names of Congress beneficiaries and force the cancellation of their dealerships, he declared. There was a hint of pique in Malhotra’s tone when he asked: “Are Congressmen alone entitled to accept pump quotas and permits?”

Seeking to retrieve the moral high ground on the scam, which has left the BJP red-faced, he said while the NDA government was “bold” enough to scrap the allotments, the Congress continued to “shamefully” raise slogans and stall the House.

Malhotra said the Congress should have welcomed the Prime Minister’s decision to cancel the allocations from Day 1 and asked for a legislation which would ratify the cancellation at one go instead of allowing the order to be challenged in a court of law.

BJP sources said their party could also consider supporting such a legislation but stressed that the cut-off year should go back to 1983 instead of 2000, which, they maintained, had mainly affected allottees from their party and left those from the Opposition untouched. Privately, BJP members disapproved Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s move, which was glowingly described by his deputy as “historic”.


New Delhi, Aug. 9: 
When money is the issue, even foes seldom differ.

At a time when MPs from the ruling party and the Opposition are busy slinging mud at each other, one subject triggered a sudden bout of camaraderie. Only Left MPs stayed aloof.

At a meeting earlier this week, most members greeted with enthusiasm the proposal for increasing funds for the MP Local Area Development Scheme. Even the much-reviled Ram Naik got an all-round applause when the petroleum minister proposed raising the fund from Rs 2 crore a year to Rs 5 crore.

The turnout was much more than expected. “At least 150 people put their signatures. But there were more. There was no place in the room for all the MPs,” said a member present at the meeting.

But there was one note of dissent — and it came from the CPM. “We do not want five crores. How are we going to manage it? Implementing 500 items in your constituency in one year is not a joke,” said Somnath Chatterjee, who suggested that instead of increasing the fund, the extra money could be given to the states. “For us, managing the infrastructure will not be easy,” he added.

The Left had also opposed the last hike in salaries of MPs, though on paper.

In 1998-99, the allocation of funds for MPs was doubled to Rs 2 crore. They were initially released in instalments of Rs 50 lakh each.

This changed two years ago when funds were released in instalments of Rs 1 crore each. The money is routed through district magistrates — the MPs do not have direct access to it.

The cost of any development project should not exceed Rs 25 lakh. The limit can be raised marginally but those involving amounts much higher require the approval of a committee.

There is also a set of guidelines for projects that are permissible. This category includes construction of tube wells, school buildings, colleges, hostels, libraries, laboratories and residential schools in tribal areas.

Projects prohibited under the scheme include building of offices, private trusts and places of religious worship. Acquisition of land is prohibited, so is giving compensation for land acquired. Purchase of air-conditioners for computer rooms, software and consumables are also not allowed.

“Recently, MPs have also been given a work book in which they have to make all entries regarding their projects — their dates of beginning and completion. The information will be put out on a website,” said National Congress Party MP from Meghalaya, Robert Karshiing.


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