Bengal takes Gujarat cue on ‘census’
Atal in last-gasp appeal to Cong
Proposal for provident fund interest rate hike
Teachings of Big Bs in education
Calcutta weather

Calcutta, March 6: 
The “census” of minorities by intelligence organisations that raised Cain in saffron Gujarat is also being carried out in red West Bengal.

Since the middle of January, the Intelligence Branch of the state police with the assistance of local police stations has launched an intensive drive to collect information on Muslim outfits.

In Gujarat, the state government last week withdrew a circular that had instructed the Intelligence Bureau to survey minority associations after Christian organisations across the country protested vehemently. It is not known whether intelligence sleuths in West Bengal are acting on the basis of a similar circular. What is known is that they have been visiting mosques and madrasas of all types and seeking details on the key persons behind the institutions.

Much of the survey has been in Murshidabad, Malda, Nadia, North and South 24-Parganas — districts along the border with Bangladesh — and also in Hooghly. Intelligence personnel have been visiting mosques, seeking information on the imams and moazzims. They have taken great interest in madrasas — particularly khareeji and qaumi madrasas that are not government recognised — which impart religious education. They have also been asking about Muslim non-government organisations that have drawn on foreign funds to sponsor madrasas.

The inquiries have made madrasa teachers and managers nervous. Secretaries of four madrasa committees in separate districts confirmed that their institutions had been visited. The secretaries-cum-teachers were not willing to be named.

In South 24-Parganas district, the Intelligence officials have been seeking information on NGOs that have been aided by the Islamic Development Bank, Riyadh. In Murshidabad, madrasa teachers were asked if they had been on Haj. Elsewhere, specific questions were asked on travel to Bangladesh and on relatives abroad.

Inquiries in the state home department have confirmed that there has been a survey on the “rapid growth” of mosques and madrasas in the border districts. In successive reports submitted to the state home department in recent times, the IB has drawn attention to the prolific growth of mosques and private madrasas. According to the survey, the growth is not a “temporary phenomenon” but projects a rather “well sustained trend” in the region.

The IB survey recorded a total of about 1,050 mosques in districts along the Indo-Bangla border. A majority of these have come up in the last few years, it was stated. There has also been a sharp increase in the number of unregistered madrasas, the IB has reported.

The IB has also carried out a demographic study of the Indo-Nepal border and noted that a large number of new Muslim settlements have come up on the West Bengal-Bihar border in close proximity to the international boundary. The IB considers this a “potential hazard zone”. All the settlers are from across the border. “It’s a tri-junction of West Bengal, Bihar and Nepal, with little police vigilance. An ideal ground for breeding religious activists,” the state home department officials said.

Informed sources said that during the survey, the state IB even got in touch with the education department, asking for the number of madrasas registered with it. But the education department did not respond to the request.

An education department official, however, admitted that private madrasas are mushrooming and the department was virtually flooded with appeals for registration. A large number of such applicants have also moved the court to get these registered.

In a coincidence, even as the state IB was carrying out surveys of the mosques and madrasas, the Border Security Force, too, undertook a similar assignment. This indicates that the Centre is looking at the region closely. The BSF findings are understood to have been passed on to the state police.

The BSF survey revealed that over 100 new madrasas have come up in Calcutta, Krishnagar and Malda sectors between 1992 and 1999. During the same period, the number of mosques have gone up by 200, the BSF report stated.    

March 6: 
Still reeling under the Congress’ Bihar bombshell, Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee today appealed to the party to reconsider its stand on Bihar.

“I appeal to the Congress leadership to rise above misconceived self-interest and act on the side of democracy, constitutional propriety and social justice.”

If he expressed his dilemma (“We do not want to throw Bihar again under mafia rule, but we cannot ignore the reality either”), the Prime Minister also hit out at the Congress.

“The Congress decision to oppose the motion in the Rajya Sabha can only be termed as opportunistic. More so, because it has exposed the Congress’ indifference to the continuing massacres of Dalits,” Vajpayee said.

But the leitmotif of his public addresses — at Barh, Ranchi, Tandwa or Patna — was an appeal to the Congress to reconsider its stand. “If, according to Sonia Gandhi, the Rabri Devi government had lost the moral right to rule (in the wake of the Narayanpur massacre), how can the Congress now facilitate the reinstallation of the same government by not voting for the ratification of the presidential proclamation in the Rajya Sabha?”

“The Congress now owes an explanation to the nation on why it reversed its stand on Bihar,” Vajpayee said. Throwing the ball in the people’s court, the Prime Minister added: “We were never happy to impose President’s rule in Bihar. But we had no option. Now it is for the people to decide if we were right or wrong.”

“Even now, it is not too late for the Congress to see reason and decide to support the imposition of President’s rule in Bihar,” he said in a written statement.

“The Congress cannot possibly have any principled opposition to the use of Article 356 under such circumstances. It has used and misused the Article on numerous occasions,” the Prime Minister said.

Laying the foundation stones for two super thermal stations at Barh — railway minister Nitish Kumar’s constituency, about 80 km from Patna — and North Karanpura — finance minister Yashwant Sinha’s seat — Vajpayee spoke as if at an election rally.

“I never aspired to become Prime Minister. I never patronised criminals. I never indulged in politics of violence. I never broke traditions and manners. I never made the life of the common man hell,” he said in an indirect attack on Laloo Yadav. “Some people have only one goal: to achieve power. They think that is the only way to serve the nation,” he added.

In addition to the twin launch of the power stations, Vajpayee came up with a development package and announced two new railway lines. “From today, a vikas parv (festival of development) has begun. And with this beginning, the violence, the bloodshed and atrocities against women and Dalits should stop.”

He clarified that a separate Vananchal state would be created soon.

As BJP general secretary M. Venkaiah Naidu echoed Vajpayee’s appeal to the Congress, saying in Bangalore that it was “not too late for the Congress to rethink”, the Congress dismissed suggestions of reviewing its stand.

Congress leader Arjun Singh said his party is neither rethinking on the issue, nor bargaining with the BJP-led coalition on replacing Governor Sundar Singh Bhandari.    

New Delhi, March 6: 
The Central Board of Trustees of the Employees’ Provident Fund wants the interest rate on PF deposits to be raised from 12 per cent to 13 per cent.

At a meeting here today, the board of trustees decided to make a formal recommendation to the Union finance ministry in this regard.

The trustees felt the additional payout would be possible if the government allowed the PF authorities to churn their investment portfolio by channelling funds from low-yielding securities to high-yielding ones.

The meeting, which was chaired by labour minister Satyanarain Jatiya, did not spell out which high-yielding securities the trustees had in mind.

“The one per cent increase in the interest rate on PF deposits will not come about this year. We are looking at next year and it is linked to enhancing yield from PF investments,” said a trade union source after the meeting.

The PF authorities are statutorily required to invest in government securities (called gilts) and the bonds of government-owned institutions.

There has been talk of allowing the PF authorities, who control a corpus of Rs 250,000 crore garnered from 22 million members, to invest in the stock market but the government has yet to take a decision.

The stock markets have been depressed over the past year and the PF authorities have not pressed the demand. But in the five trading sessions since finance minister Yashwant Sinha presented his second budget on February 27, the sensex — the barometer of the mood of the stock market — has vaulted 249.87 points to 3649.066.

In its report released on February 17, the S.A. Dave Committee, which had been given a brief to devise a pension system, has suggested that 10 per cent of the PF corpus should be channelled into the stock market.

The demand for a PF rate hike is being made at a time when the government has already indicated that it intends to guide interest rates downwards.

The first steps were taken early this week when the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) slashed the bank rate to 8 per cent from 9 per cent. The RBI also slashed the repo rate to 6 per cent (8 per cent earlier) and the cash reserve ratio for banks to 10.5 per cent (11 per cent). As a result, it is highly unlikely that the PF trustees’ demand will be conceded.

The trustees are seeking a tax concession along with the increase in the PF interest rate. At present, holders of instruments paying interest of over 12 per cent have to pay tax at source. The trustees want the limit for tax-free status raised to 13 per cent.

The PF trustees also decided to issue a permanent EPF number and an identity card to all members.

As part of a drive to simplify procedures, the trustees decided that claim forms and grievance petitions can be filed at any PF office irrespective of whether or not the member has an account there.    

Calcutta, March 6: 
CPM smart, BJP not smart at all. For every Chitlangia that the BJP tries to foist and fails, the CPM has a Surabhi Banerjee who it foists silently, successfully.

Jyoti Basu’s biographer quietly took over as pro-vice-chancellor (academic) of Calcutta University yesterday. Nary a murmur was heard anywhere. There was an air of inevitability about the appointment: as though Banerjee and the post of pro-VC were made for each other.

The pattern is familiar, which has kept repeating itself ever since Jyoti Basu’s party assumed charge of Bengal, education and everything else.

The entire process of selection in the state’s education system is politicised. And, the politicisation institutionalised. A Left Front education cell vets all important appointments. This time, though, it was as ignorant as anybody else.

Only three people — the Big B trio of the CPM — knew of Banerjee’s appointment. Basu, (Anil) Biswas and (Biman) Bose.

Even two senior members of the cell who are in charge of higher education on behalf of the party, Anil Bhattacharya and Shyamapada Pal, had no clue.

“If this is the way the education cell functions, what is the point of instituting it? It might as well be wrapped up and let just one or two people take all the decisions unilaterally,” said a member of the cell.

The more appropriate questions would perhaps be: Why have an education cell at all? Does it exist anywhere else in the world? Why should the chief minister and two party apparatchiks decide who should become pro-VC? How are appointments made in other places?

The answers to those questions are: 1. To control appointments (Murli Manohar Joshi, who made such a hash by picking businessman P.D. Chitlangia to lecture education ministers, please take lessons); 2. No; 3. For no particular reason other than to appoint a person of their choice; 4. By advertising in newspapers and then selecting the best candidate.

In Bengal, things are done differently. Surabhi Banerjee filled a post vacant for nearly a year “for want of a suitable candidate.” A little more than a year ago, her authorised biography on Jyoti Basu hit the stands. What has happened in the interim that so marked her out as the suitable woman?

The answer, for the triumvirate that runs education in the state from Alimuddin Street, is that “she has the necessary qualifications.”

“It is not entirely true that Banerjee was made pro-VC (academic) because she has written Basu’s biography,” says Anil Biswas, state CPM secretary who heads the Left Front’s education cell.

“By and large we have decided to give the post to a woman; it has almost become a convention. Bharati Roy had occupied the chair as had Karuna Bhattacharya and now it is Banerjee.” [Karuna Bhattacharya was pro-VC (finance)].

Without going into the debatable merits of reserving so senior a position on the basis of gender, the claim that Banerjee is the most suitable candidate sticks in the gullet of some of CPM’s critics.

Says former vice-chancellor Santosh Bhattacharya: “I am not fully aware of the academic and other credentials of Banerjee. But in a situation where the senate and the syndicate are controlled by one party (CPM) and the new pro-VC is also appointed by this very party, it is not difficult to figure out how Banerjee is going to function.”

Bharati Roy is happy that a woman was appointed. “The pro-VC’s job is very demanding. I would not be able to say how well Banerjee can handle it. Let us say I do not have sufficient knowledge of her administrative and other abilities,” she said.

Biswas dispels fears over Banerjee’s ability. “Criticism was levelled against us even when Bharati Roy was made pro-VC. But she proved everyone wrong by doing a decent job. We are sure Banerjee will also live up to our expectations,” he said.

Roy went on to become a CPM MP. Talk about appointments being guided by political considerations is hard for the CPM to dismiss, given such a record.

Banerjee, too, brushes aside suggestions of the Basu biography deciding her appointment. “This is an absurd question. You are not asking about academic issues. I have written at least 20 books in English and Bengali, most published by reputed houses,” she said.

She must have. Her scholarship shows in a description in the biography of how she impressed Basu with a Shakespeare quote: “There is a tide in the affairs of men...”(the rest goes thus)... “which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune”.    

Today’s forecast: Mainly clear sky. Little change in day and night temperature.

Temperature:Maximum 35.4?C (2?C above normal)
Minimum 21.9?C (2?C below normal)

Relative humidity:Maximum 95%
Minimum 28%


Sunrise:5.57 am
Sunset:5.38 pm

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