Varsity docks pay to stay afloat
REC revokes suspension
Toubro agent held
Party with President in your jeans
Echoes of Gujarat in Kalam cry
Delhi replies with democracy jab
Mini shuffle in the wind
Subrata says sorry to BJP
Kamaraj call after merger high
DD habit dies hard

 
 
VARSITY DOCKS PAY TO STAY AFLOAT 
 
 
RANJAN LAHIRI
 
Burdwan, Aug. 14: 
A funds crunch has prompted Burdwan University to deduct a day’s salary of teachers and employees to set up a development fund, sparking mixed reactions.

The decision, a first for a varsity in Bengal, comes at a time when the teachers and the employees are agitating against the non-payment of dearness allowance and house rent arrears.

The protesters have threatened go on an indefinite strike unless the dues are cleared by August 31.

Vice-chancellor Amit Kumar Mullick said in a circular that the one-day pay would be deducted in two equal instalments in September and October.

“The executive council of the university has taken this decision to fill the university’s near-empty coffers with donations from teachers and employees. We shall also appeal to our former students and local businessmen for donations to make the university self-reliant,” the vice-chancellor said.

The authorities had planned to deduct a day’s pay in equal instalments in June and July. However, the agitation by the teachers forced the authorities to put the proposal on hold.

Taraknath Sarkar, the university’s finance officer, today claimed that funds constraints had affected academic and administrative activities. “We have to incur an expenditure of Rs 2.2 crore very year on payment of salary to teachers and employees,” he said.

Besides, contingency expenditure is about Rs 40 lakh a month which is jointly shared by the state government and the University Grants Commission.

Recently, both the funding organs imposed financial restrictions and directed the university to be self-reliant. “So we have no other alternative than to seek donations from teachers and staff as well as from the public to tide over the present crisis,” Sarkar said.

While the CPM-controlled Burdwan University Employees Union has welcomed the pay-cut move, its rival Karmachari Samsad has demanded that the decision be withdrawn.

Employees Union general secretary Kalyan Dutta Mandal said most of the research projects depended on UGC grants that were not being released regularly.

“The crisis is a fallout of the UGC’s failure to pay as the state government’s financial liabilities to the universities increased after the 1996 pay hike announced by the Centre,” he said.

However, Karmachari Samsad spokesman Ashok Das did not subscribe to Mandal’s view. “There are other ways to raise funds than to force employees and teachers to donate one-day pay. The university has prime land and waterbodies which can be leased to private operators. Moreover, the university spends several lakhs on unnecessary lawsuits every year. Most of these trivial disputes can be settled amicably by the authorities,” he said.

The Burdwan University Teachers’ Association secretary, Chandra Nath Chakraborty, was also unhappy about the pay-cut. “We have suspended our cease-work agitation till August 31 on the vice-chancellor’s assurance that D.A. and house rent arrears will be cleared this month. The circular is silent on our demands.”

The teacher added that it would be unwise to blame the UGC alone for the university’s woes. “Can the state government claim that the UGC has not given money to clear our arrears?” he asked.

   

 
 
REC REVOKES SUSPENSION 
 
 
OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Durgapur, Aug. 14: 
Twelve days after slapping a blanket suspension on its second-year students, the Regional Engineering College here decided to revoke the order this afternoon.

“Though the suspensions are withdrawn immediately, the investigation into the August 2 blockade of the higher education minister by second-year students will continue,” said principal S.P. Ghosh.

He added that the suspended students were asked to report at their hostels on Friday, the day the freshers also join.

The decision comes after Satya Sadhan Chakraborty telephoned Ghosh yesterday, requesting him to “do something about the suspension”. The minister’s appeal followed a meeting with the apolitical REC students’ union at his Salt Lake office in Calcutta.

The union, represented by assistant secretary Arijit Roy, apologised to Chakraborty on behalf of the second-year students and asked him to intervene in the matter. The team was accompanied by SFI state secretary Apurba Chatterjee.

Earlier, chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee and Chakraborty had described the suspension of the entire second-year batch as unfair and called for the punishment of only those responsible.

Bhattacharjee had gone on to say that the students had the right to voice their grievances.

After the minister’s call, the REC principal convened a meeting of all deans and department heads this afternoon. It was resolved that the suspension would be withdrawn considering the concern of the chief minister, the higher education minister and the vice-chancellor of the Burdwan University.

“It should be noted that the suspension was ordered not just for demonstrating before the higher education minister but for beating up seniors and absenting from class,” Ghosh said.

   

 
 
TOUBRO AGENT HELD 
 
 
A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Aug. 14: 
Police today swooped on Shankar Das, an agent of Toubro Infotech, at his Khardah home and arrested him.

CID officials said Das was a big-timer as a Toubro representative and had employed several agents under him to collect money from hundreds of investors in North 24-Parganas.

CID sources said records indicated that Das collected several lakhs from the investors.

Toubro Infotech, a Chandigarh-based financial company, has collected Rs 60 crore from investors in the state. Several cases are pending against Toubro and many of its agents are under arrest.

   

 
 
PARTY WITH PRESIDENT IN YOUR JEANS 
 
 
RASHEED KIDWAI
 
New Delhi, Aug. 14: 
Guests at Rashtrapati Bhavan’s Independence Day get-together can go in jeans and sandals, if they like.

President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, who has made it clear he prefers his blue shirt and grey trousers to the bandhgala he wore to the swearing-in, has struck the dress code off the invites. When the file containing the invitation was sent to him, Kalam picked up his pen and cancelled an entry in the left-hand corner saying, “Dress: Formal”.

Only service personnel are expected to be in uniform, proudly displaying their decorations. The rest can go as they like. Unlike previous years, the men need not sweat it out in suit and tie and the women can wear skirts if they choose to.

Twenty days since the former missileman moved in, Rashtrapati Bhavan has seen many changes. Although keen to observe protocol, Kalam is informal while dealing with staff and has won many admirers as a result.

He is not at all fussy about his meal, sources said. On most days, he settles for sambhar, rasam and rice. Pickles are a must. For breakfast, he likes idlis, upma or aloo paratha along with strong filter coffee.

Kalam does not like to eat alone. In the absence of an official host or hostess, the President gets someone from Rashtrapati Bhavan to join him.

The sources added that it was wrong to say that Kalam is bent on breaking convention, pointing out that he has been observing many of them, such as entering and leaving Rashtrapati Bhavan through specific doors.

The President is invariably surrounded by at least eight persons, including security guards and his ADC. “It is just that some of the conventions have outlived their utility, so he is quietly discarding them. The good part is that nobody is complaining about it,” a close Kalam aide said.

During his visit to Gujarat yesterday, the President spent considerable time in Bhuj where a Kerala-based trust is providing relief and rehabilitation. The President proudly narrated his long association with the trust, praising its contribution to education and spiritualism.

   

 
 
ECHOES OF GUJARAT IN KALAM CRY 
 
 
OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Aug. 14: 
President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam today urged the nation to root out communal and other divisive clashes as they run counter to religion, tolerance and the country’s pluralistic traditions but said he was confident people could be elevated to “noble minds”.

In his first Independence Day-eve address to the nation, the President offered a simple solution on how to practise tolerance. “If we can go above our own personal hardships and see the problems of others and decide to work for a larger cause, then there is natural elevation of our minds,” he said. “When we are lax in this, then our level of thinking goes down. I feel confident that all of us can be elevated to the level of noble minds if we just decide to understand others and to practise tolerance.”

In an obvious reference to the Gujarat riots, Kalam said: “We have to eradicate communal and other divisive clashes sprouting in certain parts and remove the pains of our people whether it is in Jammu and Kashmir or in any other part of our country.” Any act that runs counter to the “eternal values” of tolerance, truth and non-violence poses a threat to the fabric of free India.

Kalam said non-violence, tolerance, acceptance of all religions and the search for truth and fearlessness were the values that Mahatma Gandhi taught. “They are the cornerstones of our civilisational heritage and, therefore, of Indian polity,” he said.

His speech was a mix of hope and caution. Kalam said unity of minds can bring about all-round development and peace and also called for a “second vision” that could lift India from its status of a developing to a developed country by integrating actions in fields like agriculture, education, health and infrastructure.

The technocrat rejected Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf’s contention that Kashmir was an international issue. “I would like to reiterate that Jammu and Kashmir is an integral part of India. It is not an international issue,” he said, but added that India would be ready for bilateral talks once cross-border terrorism is brought to an end.

Maintaining that a permanent solution has to be found to combat terrorism, he said it was important to ensure that elections in Jammu and Kashmir are successfully completed to bring peace to the embattled state.

Referring to the frequent disruptions in Parliament and state legislatures, he said: “Parliament and legislatures have a crucial role in giving the vision of developed India and value-based polity. Our children should see the members of Parliament debating the vision of developed India, providing action plans and putting forth great thoughts.”

Pointing out that children look for role models, Kalam said MPs and MLAs can shape the future of the country’s youth by assuming that role. Each state has many examples of role models from the past, he said. “It is now time we create more role models for the present.”

   

 
 
DELHI REPLIES WITH DEMOCRACY JAB 
 
 
PRANAY SHARMA
 
New Delhi, Aug. 14: 
India’s earlier reluctance to talk about “internal developments” in Pakistan was swept aside in a frontal attack today as it responded to Pervez Musharraf’s Kashmir barb with a call to restore democracy.

Delhi also expressed concern that the Pakistan President might sabotage the elections in Jammu and Kashmir after he said Islamabad should not be held responsible for the failure of the “farcical” polls.

“It is becoming increasingly clear, as we had suspected all along, that General Musharraf has no intention of putting an end to the involvement of the Pakistani state and its agencies with terrorism, including cross-border terrorism,” India said. “Our past scepticism, based on the wide gap between his words and actions, has once again been justified.”

Disappointed with Musharraf’s failure to give positive signals on bringing down Islamabad-sponsored violence and allow peaceful elections in Kashmir, India decided to strike at Pakistan’s soft belly: its lack of democracy. “The ‘sacred trust’ that he spoke about to the people of Pakistan should really be to establish a moderate and democratic Pakistan, free from military rule and networks of fundamentalist terrorism,” foreign ministry spokesperson Nirupama Rao said.

Rao described the referendum that Musharraf held in May to give himself another five years as President as “rigged” and criticised the “constitutional and political” manipulations that are going on for the October general elections.

“One would have hoped that General Musharraf would have been more restrained in his pronouncements on elections in Jammu and Kashmir,” she said. “Perhaps, it is the contrast between free and fair elections in Jammu and Kashmir within the framework of India’s democracy and the national elections in Pakistan conducted by a military regime that worries him.”

The Centre has made it clear that peaceful elections in Kashmir will be possible if Pakistan upholds its commitment to stop cross-border terrorism and said Islamabad’s conduct during the polls in September-October will be the litmus test.

Rao said Musharraf’s “denigration” of the electoral process in Kashmir and “indirect exhortations to boycott the elections coupled with disowning responsibility for terrorist activity sponsored to disrupt the electoral process in the state indicate that our concerns that Pakistan intends to sabotage these elections are well founded”.

   

 
 
MINI SHUFFLE IN THE WIND 
 
 
OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Aug. 14: 
A mini reshuffle of the council of ministers may take place by end-August but the exercise could involve only those belonging to the BJP and not the NDA allies, said government sources.

The reshuffle will be prompted by the impending shift of some ministers to the BJP — a move Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee had hinted at in his address to the party’s national council a couple of weeks ago. Among those likely to return to the party are Uma Bharti, Vasundhara Raje, Chaman Lal Gupta and Pon Radhakrishnan.

Former minister of state for commerce and industry Raman Singh has already been sent to Chhattisgarh as the BJP president. BJP sources said the leadership had made up its mind on Bharti taking over in Madhya Pradesh and Vasundhara going to Rajasthan to head the state unit.

But Bharti was reportedly resisting the decision. “Vasundhara was eventually persuaded, but Uma is saying no. She’s harping on the point that the faction-ridden Madhya Pradesh unit will not accept her leadership,” said the sources.

The move to depute the two women as state party chiefs implied that they would be projected as chief ministerial candidates in the Assembly elections due next year. With Rajasthan strongman Bhairon Singh Shekhawat’s election as the Vice-President, the BJP was in search of a leader who could match his “political skills and charisma”. Unable to zero in on one in the state, the leaders turned to Vasundhara though party functionaries in Rajasthan have voiced doubts over whether she could deliver.

Chaman Lal Gupta, the minister of state for civil aviation, might be asked to take over the Jammu and Kashmir BJP before the elections and Radhakrishnan, the Tamil Nadu unit, which is presently headed by S.P. Kirubanidhi, a nominee of former BJP president K. Jana Krishnamurthi.

   

 
 
SUBRATA SAYS SORRY TO BJP 
 
 
OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Calcutta, Aug. 14: 
A day after his party’s conditional withdrawal from the NDA, Trinamul Congress leader and Calcutta mayor Subrata Mukherjee expressed regret for his “intemperate language” about Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani, indicating a remarkable softening in the party’s stand vis-à-vis the BJP high command.

The state BJP, which received a letter from Mukherjee expressing regret for his remarks about the apex leaders, responded by deciding to continue its support to the Trinamul-dominated Calcutta Municipal Corporation board.

“The mayor’s letter said he was sorry if his language had hurt any one’s sentiments. In view of his clarification, we have decided to continue our alliance with Trinamul in the civic body,” Muzaffar Khan, state BJP vice-president, said.

Mukherjee, who had earlier refused to apologise for his controversial remarks about Vajpayee and Advani despite the state BJP’s strong disapproval of his stand, said he had written a letter to the BJP leaders expressing regret.

“I made an emotional speech at my party’s dharna to protest Eastern Railway’s bifurcation and might have said things I should not have,” he told The Telegraph.

Sources said the mayor has toned down his anti-BJP tirade at party chairperson Mamata Banerjee’s directive.

Mamata, who has sought an appointment with Vajpayee during the week-end to elaborate her party’s compulsions over the railway bifurcation which forced her to quit the NDA, is expected to return to the city on Sunday.

Mukherjee, however, ridiculed state CPM secretary Anil Biswas’ contention that Mamata has not had the courage to snap ties with the NDA, saying “the Marxists need not dictate what we should or should not do”.

“Our party is politically mature to frame its own policies. The CPM should mind its own business,” he said.

   

 
 
KAMARAJ CALL AFTER MERGER HIGH 
 
 
M.R. VENKATESH
 
Madurai, Aug. 14: 
Addressing the biggest Congress rally in the state in 13 years, an assertive Sonia Gandhi today called for a return to Kamaraj rule and indicated that the party would chart an independent political path.

“History is beckoning us; let us prepare for the challenges of tomorrow,” Sonia thundered before a mammoth crowd, easily the largest Congress gathering in the state since Rajiv Gandhi’s election rally in Chennai in 1989, which had come to witness the merger of the Tamil Maanila Congress into the parent party.

Encouraged by the amazing turnout of people from all walks of life at Ring Road Maidan on the city’s outskirts, the Congress president said: “We have to work today to re-emerge in our own right as the major political force in Tamil Nadu.”

Sonia’s “I-know-we-can-do-it” confidence, coinciding with the merger of the Tamil Maanila Congress and a Pondicherry faction into the parent party, might worry the DMK and the ADMK as they get ready for the 2004 general elections.

If the turnout at the TMC-Congress merger rally was any indication, the Congress is on the comeback trail in Tamil Nadu after being in political hibernation for 35 years.

Sensing the mood, all the speakers this evening spoke of the need to bring back “Kamaraj rule”. Outgoing TMC president G.K.Vasan, Congress state unit chief E.V.K.S. Elangovan and AICC secretary Ramesh Chennithala were among the speakers.

Huge cutouts of Indira Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi and G.K. Moopanar in the background, Sonia lashed out against both Dravidian parties for having pushed development issues to the backseat.

Paying floral tributes to a portrait of Moopanar, Sonia said though he had split to float the TMC in 1996, he had never undermined the Congress nor compromised on secularism. His son, G.K. Vasan, had fulfilled Moopanar’s wish to strengthen the Congress by merging the TMC with it, she added.

Pointing out that the merger was taking place during the centenary of Congress stalwart K. Kamaraj, she recalled his role in modernising Tamil Nadu, particularly in education.

The Panchayati Raj movement launched by Rajiv Gandhi, which for the first time gave due representation to Dalits and women, should be taken forward, she added. Sonia asked partymen to visit every village to ameliorate the sufferings of farmers and handloom weavers in particular.

Warning against a resurgence of “terrorism and separatism” in the state, the Congress chief said her party would resist any attempt to divide society on the basis of religion, language or ethnicity.

Sonia also cautioned that what had happened in Gujarat could happen anywhere in the country if those “preaching the politics of hatred” were not stopped. Former TMC MP Peter Alphonse translated the speech into Tamil.

Sonia also announced that Vasan was being nominated as AICC secretary and said interests of all “home-comers” would be protected.

Traffic turned completely chaotic as all incoming roads to Madurai were choked with thousands of vehicles carrying Congress supporters. Hundreds of vehicles could not even enter Madurai, complained Alphonse.

With A.R. Rahman’s Vande Mataram electrifying the rally’s commencement, an unusual resurgence was seen among Congressmen today, several of whom said that if only factional squabbles could be kept at bay, the party could emerge as a “real alternative” to both the DMK and the ADMK.

   

 
 
DD HABIT DIES HARD 
 
 
OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Aug. 14: 
Doordarshan has resurrected the system of commissioning programmes, eight months after the procedure provoked charges of favoritism, because “sponsored programmes do not often lend themselves to subjects of public interest”.

A meeting of the Prasar Bharati board has concluded that commissioned programmes will lend variety to Doordarshan and will supplement in-house productions. It was deemed that many programmes that Doordarshan would normally want to have “may not lend themselves to commercial sponsorship”.

Many of these programmes are expected to be news and current affairs-based. DD News, the channel that was wound up and replaced by DD Bharti on January 26, used to be fed almost entirely with commissioned programmes.

It is understood that Prasar Bharti had proposed to revive the DD News channel from September 15 but Sushma Swaraj has shot it down. Prasar Bharati sources said programmes would now be commissioned by Doordarshan at both its headquarters and regional centres.

   
 

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