Tuition fees up four to ten times
Dropping poverty comes with brainpower flight
Tea scares off Sonia, not Cong
Centre nibbles at food mountain
Two Kashmirs, one culinary tradition
Calcutta Weather

Calcutta, July 10: 
For the first time in half a century, tuition fees in state-funded universities and colleges in Bengal are going up.

After getting clearance at last week�s meeting of the Left Front education cell, Satyasadhan Chakraborty, the higher education minister, today announced a four to 10 times increase, the fee rising to between Rs 60 and Rs 160 per head per month from the previous range of Rs 12 to Rs 18.

Tuition fees � along with charges in government hospitals � have been a holy cow for successive governments because of the implications of a revision for the middle-class electorate, which benefits far more from low rates than the poor.

While announcing the increase, the government said students coming from poor families will be offered relief.

The government will also announce a uniform fee structure for students of state-aided and private engineering institutions. It is still working on the revised fees for engineering courses, which, Chakraborty said, will be ready shortly.

Now that the tuition fees have been raised, the government will maintain strict vigil on colleges and universities to ensure that they provide better educational facilities.

Universities and colleges will be asked to pay government-stipulated remuneration to part-time teachers. �Drastic action will be taken against the institutions if they are found violating the government�s rules regarding payment of salaries to part-time teachers,� said Chakraborty.

Many colleges as well as departments in some universities have to mainly depend on part-time teachers because of the government�s failure to provide an adequate number of full-timers.

The state higher education department recently fixed a minimum of Rs 2,000 per month for part-time teachers in colleges. But the department received a large number of complaints from part-timers about irregular payment.

The revised tuition fees will be put into effect by the seven state-aided universities and over 340 colleges in the state from the current month.

�We appeal to all sections of students to understand our difficulty. We had to increase the fees as there was no other option. We have taken the decision in the interest of the students� community,� said Chakraborty.

Asim Dasgupta, the finance minister, had announced the decision to raise fees on the floor of the Assembly while presenting the budget two weeks ago.

The higher education minister appealed to students� bodies to extend their cooperation to the government in implementing the new fees.

Even after today�s revision, the anomaly of many students paying more for schooling than higher education remains.


New Delhi, July 10: 
India and China � home to about 38 per cent of the world�s population � are among only 11 countries that are on course to halve poverty levels over the next 15 years, according to the global human development report.

The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) report, which looks specifically at how new technologies will affect developing countries and poor people, says fast-expanding information technology and economic transformation have propelled India up the human development index (HDI) ladder to the 115th rung from the 127th spot earlier. The survey covers 162 countries.

It, however, says that inequalities between the haves and have-nots are becoming more and more glaring. Neighbour Pakistan is ranked 127 with other low development countries.

�In China, inequality has followed a U-shaped pattern, with inequality falling until the mid-1980s and rising since. The story is better in India with inequality falling until recently and then coming to a halt.�

Sri Lanka has done even better ranking 81st, seven points above China which stands at 87.

The UNDP report joins the Indian government in expressing concern over the steady �brain drain� of educated Indians. �The average total cost of providing university education to one of these professionals is about $ 15,000-$20,000. This means India is losing as much as $2 billion a year in resources as a result of this emigration to the United States,� says the UNDP report. The report adds that 100,000 Indian professionals a year are expected to take visas recently issued by the US.

But there�s one sobering thought: for all the tall talk about India being techno-savvy, the country has been placed only 63rd among the 72 that have been ranked under the technological achievement index (TAI) with just one patent granted per million people.

The report explains that India, home to a world-class technology hub in Bangalore, ranks at the end of the TAI because Bangalore is only a small enclave in a country where the average adult received only 5.1 years of education, adult literacy is at 44 per cent, electricity consumption is half that of China, and there are just 28 telephones for every 1,000 people.

Bangalore, however, has been patted on the back, scoring 13 out of 16 points as a hub of technological innovations.

By providing education for information technology � India�s English-language technical colleges turn out 73,000 graduates a year � and investing in infrastructure, the government has ensured India�s place in the new economy. These efforts will deliver long-term benefits for human development and equitable economic growth.

India also fares well on gender development with its rank improving to 105 from 108 earlier, even though female foeticide and infanticide have been spiralling all over the country.

While in many countries male and female literacy rates are the same, India is among the 43 countries where male rates are at least 15 percentage points higher.


New Delhi, July 10: 
The Congress will attend the tea party at the Pakistan high commission but Sonia Gandhi will not.

Sensing the disquiet among political parties over attending the reception, to which the All Parties Hurriyat Conference has been invited, the Congress president has decided against going. Manmohan Singh and Natwar Singh will represent the party at the high tea to be hosted by Pakistan high commissioner Ashraf Jehangir Qazi at his Tilak Marg residence.

Sonia does not consider tea parties safe gatherings, having burned her fingers during Subramanian Swamy�s now almost legendary April 1999 bash that saw the collapse of the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government, but did not lead to the installation of a Congress one.

Qazi�s diplomatic do has driven a wedge between the government and the main Opposition party. The Congress today changed its mind after earlier agreeing to stay away from the tea reception in case the Hurriyat was invited. Led by hawk Natwar Singh, the �Pak-experts� in the party overruled Manmohan Singh, who had sided with the BJP�s suggestion that political parties would avoid the meet in case Hurriyat leaders were called.

If Monday had belonged to Manmohan, Natwar Singh had his way today. He managed to convince the party leadership not to fall into the �trap� laid by the government. �Why should we opt out when the government will have its presence on the grounds of protocol?� asked Natwar, a former IFS officer. AICC spokesman Anand Sharma said the Congress would have no objection to the presence of Hurriyat leaders if they were �one among the crowd�, but object if Musharraf decides to hold a one-on-one meeting with them.

The Congress volte-face has brought to the fore the battle of supremacy among �Pak experts� in the party. The party has about a dozen leaders who have served in the foreign office and now they all want to have their say. Sonia had a difficult time picking the team that will represent the party on Thursday when it will call on Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee. Some of the leaders who want to have a place in the summit are Madhavrao Scindia, Pranab Mukherjee, Baliram Bhagat, Salman Khurshid, Mani Shankar Aiyar, R.L. Bhatia, Anand Sharma, Narain Dutt Tiwari and P. Shiv Shankar. Sonia has chosen Scindia, Mukherjee, Manmohan and Natwar to accompany her when the Congress team will call on Vajpayee.

Raisina Hills is also buzzing with speculation that the NDA is not one on the issue of sidelining the Hurriyat as some Central ministers are not averse to the presence of the Kashmiri separatist leaders. The Left parties, too, distanced themselves from the government claim that it would avoid Qazi�s party in case Hurriyat leaders were called.


New Delhi, July 10: 
In a belated attempt to whittle down the food mountain created by its overflowing buffer stocks, the government today announced a 30 per cent cut in prices of foodgrain sold to those living above the poverty line through the public distribution system.

�The cut in prices will come into effect immediately,� parliamentary affairs minister Pramod Mahajan said. The scheme will run till March 31, 2002, but will be discontinued if the stocks are exhausted earlier.

The price cut became necessary as the government had amassed a 60-million-tonne stock against a buffer requirement of 15.8 million tonnes.

The abundance created a paradox: the cost of holding so much food as well as the high price of moving stocks around raised the end-price of selling the grain to a level that was higher than that being charged by private trade. While the Food Corporation of India was charging Rs 9.30 for a kilo of wheat and Rs 11.70 for a kilo of rice sold through ration shops, private wholesale trade prices were Rs 6 and Rs 11.

Today�s cut brings prices charged by private trade and the FCI in line.

Wheat will now cost Rs 6.10 per kg and rice Rs 8.30 for consumers above the poverty line.

The Cabinet also raised the ceiling on foodgrain available to families below the poverty line to 25 kg per month from 20 kg. Such families are sold foodgrain at rates that are 60 per cent of the end-price the government charges.

The FCI has been allowed to offer up to 2 million tonnes of wheat this year to roller flour mills for export of wheat products. Mahajan said: �The Cabinet has permitted FCI to offer them from the central pool on the condition that wheat products exported by them would not be less than 65 per cent of the quantity lifted.�

�The base price of wheat for this purpose would be fixed by a high-level committee of FCI and 2 million tonnes of wheat would be available for this purpose during 2001-02,� he said.

The Cabinet also decided that the department of food and public distribution would evolve a mechanism to ensure that wheat made available by the FCI from the central pool for export is not unauthorisedly diverted.

Among other decisions, it approved a restructuring plan for the customs and central excise department aimed at raising revenue collection by five per cent and reducing staff strength by about 3,600.

Mahajan said: �The basic intention behind this step was to improve productivity and effectiveness of the department, which would now have more commissionerates and divisions to speed up revenue collection.�


New Delhi, July 10: 
If diplomacy is all about sugar-coating bitter truths, strategists on both sides of the border believe in serving them in a variety of flavours and colours. Whatever else the Vajpayee-Musharraf summit achieves in tangible terms, the event is likely to see gastronomic diplomacy being tuned to a fine art.

The services of food experts Jiggs Kalra, Pushpesh Pant and Marut Sikka have been used to plan and execute the meals Pervez Musharraf and Atal Bihari Vajpayee will partake of at Agra�s Jaypee Palace.

Culinary strategists are delving as much into traditional medicine � ayurveda and unani � as the range of spices and other exotica that will go into cooking the dishes.

�The cuisine will be prepared keeping the personality traits of the leaders and their temperaments in mind. It will suit the occasion, region and season,� said Pant, who combines the skills of a cook with the vision of a foreign affairs expert. He is a professor of diplomacy at Jawaharlal Nehru University.

Apart from pandering to the personal fancies of Musharraf and Vajpayee, Pant also hoped the food would reflect India�s regional diversities. He has employed four chefs: a Sikh, a Muslim, a Garhwali, and a Bengali Christian. A state dinner has been planned on the eve of July 15 on the �unity in diversity� principle.

�It will be a synthesis of dishes from various regions. We have called it the culinary legends of India adding to the mood of harmony, in the hope that the sweet taste of food will linger where memories will play a major role,� Pant said.

Some of the dishes on the menu are daal and biryani from Hyderabad, lamb cooked in 24-karat gold from Awadh and thakkali (tomato) rasam from Kerala. The dinner will be served in four courses, starting with soup, followed by two kebab dishes with rice and five dishes making up the third and the fourth will be the sweet dish � kulfi with colours of the national flag.

�Food diplomacy can only take place at a people to people level, through exchange of recipes across the border. People love eating what they have grown up with, it reminds them of their roots. Since food is as much an identity as the idiom, it will definitely make way for peace. When it comes to food there are no two nations but one subcontinent, the feel of food will prevail over the vulgarity of politics,� Pant said.

The other part in the food diplomacy is being played by some of the hotels. Pakistani chefs have been invited to Delhi by the ITC WelcomGroup for a 11-day food festival at the Maurya Sheraton Hotel Zinda Dillane (Memories and flavours from) Lahore.

�The food served in the buffet is purely from Punjab in Pakistan, and will revive memories of people who left Punjab during the partition,� said the executive chef, Meboob Ahmed Khan, who, with Mohammed Asghar, has come over from the well-known Avari hotel of Lahore.

�Although there are a lot of similarities between the food of Pakistan and India, some of the basic differences are that in Pakistan people prefer bhuna (dry) food and onion is added in the initial stage of cooking,� said Khan.




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