Sop-laden population policy freezes LS seats
Left gifts Atal ammunition to return fire from San
Culture curfew in Kanpur
Nod for SAIL job cut
Bengal on widow welfare mission
Calcutta weather

New Delhi, Feb. 15 
The Centre today unveiled a three-pronged national population policy which offers a series of incentives by which the government expects to stabilise the growth rate by 2045.

As part of the project, the government is considering freezing the number of Lok Sabha seats till 2026 to give the states a free hand in implementing the population policy. For instance, Kerala, which has succeeded in controlling the growth rate, could feel aggrieved as it sends only 20 MPs to the Lok Sabha. The strength of each state in the Lower House depends on its population.

The government adopted the policy before the budget session as it is in a hurry to kick off the programme following predictions that the country’s population would touch the billion mark on May 11. India’s annual demographic growth rate is 15.5 million, which, the government believes, could “neutralise efforts to conserve available resources and their environment”.

“Stabilising population is an essential requirement for promoting sustainable development with more equitable distribution. However, it is as much a function of making reproductive health care accessible and affordable for all, as of increasing the provision and outreach of primary and secondary education,” the government said while accepting the policy.

A National Commission on Population, with the Prime Minister at the chair, will be constituted to monitor the implementation of the plan. Every state will have its own population panel as well.

The policy has categorised its objectives under three heads: immediate, medium-term and long-term. The immediate targets are addressing the needs of contraception and health infrastructure. Though the policy does not state as much, government sources indicated that funding for population projects could go up in the budget.

The medium-term objective is to ensure that the fertility graph plateaus by 2010. The long-term aim is stabilising the population by 2045.

The Centre, which has been pursuing a “target-free” approach since 1993-94, has offered a series of sops to promote the small-family norm.

The programme has laid down 13 “national socio-demographic goals” to be achieved by 2010. Among them are making school education free and compulsory up to the age of 14, reducing infant mortality rate to below 30 per 1,000 births, universal immunisation of children against all vaccine-preventable diseases, promoting delayed marriage for girls, preferably after they are 20, containing the spread of AIDS and communicable diseases, integrating Indian Systems of Medicine with reproductive and child health services, widespread access to counselling on contraception and making family-planning a people-centred programme.

For the 2010 target, the policy also focuses on 12 strategic “themes” that would serve as guidelines. The themes, to be elaborated in an action plan, will focus on “decentralised planning and empowering women for improved health and nutrition”.

Apart from the Prime Minister, the population panel will include chief ministers and the Central minister in charge of family welfare. It will have as members demographers, public health professionals and NGO emissaries.    

New Delhi, Feb. 15 
The next time Left leaders scream over saffronisation of the administration, they had better watch out for a weapon in the hands of the Vajpayee government.

The Union home ministry has prepared a note summarising the growth and activities of two CPM-run organisations in West Bengal — the State Government Employees’ Coordination Committee and the Non-Gazetted Police Karmachari Samiti — which have publicised Left views and safeguarded communist interests for decades.

The government is bracing for a Parliament showdown with the Congress and the Left parties on the issue of allowing government employees to take part in RSS programmes.

The BJP sees the home ministry paper as a tool to point out how Left cadre have infiltrated different wings of the state government through the years.

Both the Prime Minister and the home minister have gone through the note that maps the history of the two outfits that reach out to the grassroots and implement the CPM programme.

The Centre does not feel there is any need to act against the Jyoti Basu government. It only wants to highlight that those crying foul over the Sangh’s “hidden agenda” had themselves mastered the art of politicising the administration.

The note traces the history of the coordination committee, formed in 1956 to “consolidate the state government employees in favour of the communists for propagating and executing their ideology among these employees”.

The organisation now has a membership of approximately 2,88,000. The note details how the membership has grown within a range of 0.24 per cent and 5.72 per cent in most districts but has “significantly fallen” in both Writers’ Buildings and the New Secretariat by 11 and seven per cent respectively.

The paper says the Left government has consistently used the coordination committee for political gains, especially during elections. Its members are entrusted with the task of manning polling booths and counting centres and they “connive with the Left Front candidates indulging in electoral malpractices”.

The note points out that during its general council meeting in Calcutta on June 5-6, 1999, the organisation resolved to canvass for Left candidates and organise publicity campaigns against the BJP government.

“The organisation has been used by the Left Front government to criticise the Centre and to propagate the achievements of the Left government. The committee leadership asked its members to work hard for the victory of Left candidates and it was so concerned that a number of its members moved over to Krishnagar, a constituency that had become a prestige issue with the BJP,” the note says.

The Non-Gazetted Police Karmachari Samiti, which was formed in 1977 after the Left government came to power, has around 43,000 members from constables to sub-inspectors.

The note says the samiti “is a pro-CPM body and nearly all the office-bearers have close contacts with district and local-level party leaders”.

It alleges that the outfit has projected the policies of the Left regime and while handling law and order, it has been biased in favour of the ruling alliance.    

Lucknow, Feb. 15 
Not content with the Valentine’s Day assault on couples, the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad in Kanpur blacklisted restaurant-owners and businessmen who are “supporting and encouraging western culture”.

The student wing of the BJP got a boost today when a Kanpur magistrate banned public celebration of Valentine’s Day.

The ABVP had staged violent protests yesterday against Valentine’s Day, saying it violated Indian culture. A group affiliated to the student body had filed a litigation, calling for drastic measures to stop this “violation” of the culture of Kanpur and also of India

While munsif magistrate Pramod Kumar Shrivastav ruled in favour of the ABVP, the outfit declared that from now February 14 would be observed as “Save Culture Day”.

The ABVP released a list of restaurant-owners and businessmen in the city today, saying they will be kept “on a tight leash” for promoting western culture.

The police arrested seven ABVP activists, but released them in the evening.

The ABVP also issued a dress-code for college-going girls in the city, saying jeans and miniskirts should be banned as they are not part of Indian culture. Salwar kurta was identified as the right dress-code.

With college girls being increasingly targeted, women in the city are feeling worried. Two girls were recently paraded on one of Kanpur’s busiest roads because they had questioned the ABVP.

The ABVP has formed a “vigilance body” to ensure Indian “sanskriti” is maintained.

Yesterday, ABVP activists went on a rampage in Kanpur, ransacking gift shops, restaurants and flower stalls to protest against Valentine’s Day celebrations. As the protests grew violent, several other self-styled protectors of “Bharatiya sanskriti” joined the ABVP mob.

Twelve couples were robbed of their belongings and nearly 250 others had their faces blackened for “celebrating an alien festival”. Shops selling Valentine’s Day-related gifts were ransacked.

Principal secretary (home) V.K. Mittal said students would have to be educated on how they were the victims rather than the perpetrators.

“Students don’t realise that they are being used by politicians,” Mittal said.    

New Delhi, Feb. 15 
In a radical restructuring plan for SAIL, the government today permitted the Rs 15,000 crore steel behemoth to get rid of one lakh of its 1.6 lakh workers through a voluntary retirement scheme (VRS) over the next three to five years.

It also cleared a Rs 8,454 crore restructuring package for the loss-making steel giant that includes loan writeoffs amounting to Rs 5,454 crore and provides government guarantees for market borrowings worth Rs 3,000 crore.

SAIL has been allowed to divest its stake and give up management control of its Durgapur-based Alloy Steel Plant, Salem steel plant and Visveswariya Iron and Steel in Karnataka.    

Calcutta, Feb. 15 
When Deepa Mehta and her Water were being driven out of Varanasi, a West Bengal government team was quietly going from door to door in another widow town, Brindavan.

The next stop will be Varanasi. Their visit, to see for themselves how the widows live, is a precursor to a rehabilitation plan where Jyoti Basu’s government, laying out the red carpet for Mehta, will seek the cooperation of the BJP-led Uttar Pradesh regime whose administration stood by and watched the Water crew retreat in the face of Sangh parivar attacks.

The Bengal government does not acknowledge that its initiative was in any way prompted by Water or the controversy around it, but the coincidence is difficult to miss. A “thorough survey” of widows, many of whom are from Bengal, is being conducted through the West Bengal Commission for Women. “The study will be carried out in two phases. the first phase has already started at Brindavan,” Bela Dutta Gupta, the commission’s chairperson, said. Another state agency and the Central Social Welfare Board are involved in the initiative.

“The work schedule is very hard for the team since our deadline is very short,” Dutta Gupta said. The state government has March as the deadline for completing the Brindavan survey.

“We are hopeful we will be able to stick to the deadline and submit an interim report by May,” she said. Initial findings put the number of widows, surviving solely on alms, in Brindavan at 6,000. One rung down the scale of exploitation are a large number who work as maid servants.

Dutta Gupta said the Varanasi phase of the study will start as soon as the current exercise is over. Even though the survey is being conducted on a shoe-string budget of Rs 4 lakh — the sum sanctioned thus far by the state government — Dutta Gupta insists that private funding will not be accepted.

She said many non-governmental organisations were making enquiries after the Water controversy erupted.

“It has been an issue since the last part of the 19th century. It is a national shame that the women are still forced to live in this terrible situation,” she said.

If the government’s initiative now is read as an indication, even Bengal seems to have taken 100 years to realise that.    

Temperature: Maximum: 36.5°C (-3) Minimum: 16.7°C (normal) RAINFALL: Nil Relative humidity: Maximum: 85%, Minimum: 41% Today: Mainly clear sky. Not much change in minimum temperature. Sunset: 5.28 pm Sunrise: 6.15 am    

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