Blast rips veil of calm in rebel-target north
Left shuts out uniform school curriculum
HS syllabus makeover next year
Panel to study tuition fees
Top guns rush to take infotech class
Hawks pitchfork Kamtapur on talks table
Tourists ride wave spectacle
More counters for tax returns
Congress sharpens UTI knife for Sinha
Sangh slams Hurriyat short shrift to Pant

Calcutta, July 23: 
At least 22 people were wounded when a bomb went off inside a packed “maxi-taxi” private minibus at Balurghat in South Dinajpur this morning.

No outfit has so far claimed responsibility for the explosion, but police do not rule out the possibility of sabotage.

The bomb, concealed under a seat over the rear wheels, exploded shortly after the bus left the municipal terminus in Balurghat for Safainagar, village in Kumarganj on the Bangladesh border, around 9.20 am. The explosion ripped through the vehicle, shortly after it reached the Balurghat stadium around 9.40 am. The bus caught fire, but alert local residents managed to rescue the trapped passengers.

“Most of the passengers received splinter and burn injuries. Those wounded, mostly state government employees and school teachers, were daily commuters on their way to work. Fortunately for them, the major impact of the explosion was borne by the under-carriage of the vehicle. The condition of two of the injured passengers is stated to be serious. All the wounded persons were taken to Balurghat sadar hospital,” said South Dinajpur superintendent of police Anuj Sharma.

“Though we do not suspect any extremist hand behind the explosion, we do not completely rule out an act of sabotage. Preliminary investigations reveal that the bomb, though a powerful one, was possibly crude and country-made. The driver of the bus is absconding,” he added.

The police directorate is rushing a team from the State Forensic Laboratories to Balurghat.

Inspector-general of police (law and order) Chayan Mukherjee said reports reaching Writers’ Buildings till this evening indicated that the explosive was a locally-made, crude bomb. Mukherjee said the typical ingredients used to manufacture crude bombs such as jute rope, needed to bind the explosives together, and steel balls, used as shrapnel, were found at the blast site. He said the bomb could have gone off when the bus hit a pothole or the rear wheels rode over a speedbreaker. The explosives which were kept directly over the rear wheels could have detonated when the bus jolted.

Expressing concern over the incident, chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee said he had asked RSP minister from Balurghat Bishwanath Chowdhury to visit the spot.

The explosion has set off the alarm in the intelligence department in north Bengal. Officials have reports that subversive groups funded by Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence plan to trigger a series of powerful explosions along the sensitive and strategic “Siliguri corridor”, known as the north Bengal “chicken-neck”. The corridor, bordered by Bangladesh on the south and Nepal on the northwest, is increasingly becoming a hub for ISI operatives based in the two countries.

Security has been beefed up at the Tenzing Norgey central bus terminus in Siliguri, New Jalpaiguri railway station and Bagdogra airport following the reports, a police official said in Siliguri.


Calcutta, July 23: 
The Left Front government today rejected the Centre’s proposal for a uniform curriculum in schools, setting the stage for another showdown with the BJP-led regime on education.

The Left Front is gearing up for a countrywide movement against the Central education policy, which, it alleges, is an effort to saffronise the education system.

Rejecting the proposal, floated by the human resources development ministry, education minister Kanti Biswas told the Assembly that introducing a uniform education curriculum was not possible in a country with a federal structure.

Biswas argued that every state had a different language, a different culture and a different ethos. “If anything is imposed forcibly, it will never be fruitful,” he said. The minister, however, added that the Central government was free to suggest guidelines on how to improve the quality of education.

Biswas’ statement came on a query from CPM legislator Abu Ayes Mondal, who wanted to know whether the state government would introduce the uniform syllabus framed by the Centre.

Biswas said the HRD ministry had sent him a school-level syllabus for introduction in the state, but the Left Front would reject it. “The syllabus framed by the BJP government is not only unscientific, it is also against Indian culture and heritage. They want to teach a distorted history of the country to the new generation and want to impart religious education, which is a dangerous signal for the young generation,’’ Biswas said.

He said no civilised and conscious state could accept the new syllabus. The minister wondered how the BJP-led regime could think of imparting religious and astrological education at a time when the world, and India, were moving on the infotech fast-track. “We do not know where and how the new syllabus has been framed. The Central government has not take any suggestion or opinion from the state,” Biswas added.

He said an education convention has been convened on July 31 where the Centre’s proposals and the views of the state would be discussed. Several educationists and different organisations will participate in the meet. Besides, Biswas said, the Left Front government was preparing a document on education system and policy which will be sent to all non-BJP ruled states. An all-India conference will be organised in Delhi where education ministers from all non-BJP states would be invited.

The communist government in Bengal has been raising its voice against the education policies of the NDA government for some time. Bengal had earlier vehemently opposed the HRD ministry’s proposal to introduce Saraswati vandana in schools. At that time, West Bengal had united 16 non-BJP-ruled states and lodged a protest against the move, forcing the government to withdraw.

Sources at Writers’ Buildings said some states had already informed chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee that would support any move to prevent the NDA government from saffronising education.


Calcutta, July 23: 
The West Bengal Higher Secondary Council will introduce major changes in the syllabi from next year.

Council president Sudin Chattopadhay said today that the revised syllabi is likely to come into effect from the 2002-2003 academic session.

Sources in the education department said the move follows a decision of the government to upgrade the higher secondary syllabi which are taught in more than 13,000 schools across the state.

Higher education minister Kanti Biswas had recently announced in the Assembly that the higher secondary syllabi would be revised.

Chattopadhay said that in the first phase, changes will be incorporated in the syllabus for physics, chemistry, mathematics, zoology, physiology, life science, botany, history, geography, philosophy, education, economics, sociology, political science, accountancy, business economics and business geography.

The council chief explained that the decision to upgrade the syllabi has been taken for three major reasons.

“One of the main reasons that prompted us to introduce some changes is to bring a parity between the existing Madhyamik and the higher secondary syllabi,” Chattopadhay said.

For the past few years, the council office had been flooded with complaints from various teachers’ bodies who alleged that many students were unable to perform well when they went to Class XI as the higher secondary syllabi was much difficult than Madhyamik’s.

Students, guardians and authorities of schools affiliated to the ICSE and CBSE boards had also prompted the council to revise its syllabi.

Students from CBSE and ICSE schools often complained that they found it difficult to adjust to the higher secondary course having studied up to Class X either under the CBSE or ICSE boards.

The council’s decision to introduce teaching of new subjects is another reason that prompted it to introduce the changes.

Chattopadhay said an expert committee, comprising eminent academicians from various levels, has been set up to draft the changes.

In addition, separate committees have been set up to decide the new topics that are to be introduced in each subject.

Teachers’ organisations, guardians and even individuals are welcome to send their suggestions for introducing the changes, Chattopadhay added.

Those interested in giving their opinion have to send their suggestions in sealed envelopes addressed to Badal Bhattacharya, deputy secretary (education) at the council.

The suggestions will be accepted by the council if they reach its office within six weeks from today.


Calcutta, July 23: 
The state government has decided to set up a committee to look into the tuition fees different colleges are charging for professional and technical courses.

Higher education minister Satyasadhan Chakraborty told the Assembly today that the committee will check if any college was charging exorbitant fees.

The committee, which will function under the newly-formed University of Technology, will recommend to the government what tuition fees should be charged for technical and professional courses.

Opposition chief whip Sovandeb Chattopadhyay raised the issue in the House and alleged that colleges, both government and private ones, were charging exorbitant tuition fees for these specialised courses. Echoing Chattopadhyay, CPI legislator Chittaranjan Das Thakur said a college at Panskura in Midnapore district was charging Rs 31,000 for a course in microbiology.

“If a government-recognised college charges so much, where will the poor students go?’’ Thakur said.

However, the minister argued that these were “self-financing” courses. “Students who go to Bangalore or Chennai for technical and professional education, have to pay lakhs as tuition fees. Why will they not spend money here (when) the fees are comparatively low?’’ Chakraborty said. But he added that the government will ensure that fees are not “extremely high”.

According to higher education department officials, tuition fees for all colleges are fixed by the government. In some cases, a college charges fees on an ad hoc basis which is later approved by the government.

The officials argued that the fees depend on the subject and the course. As technical and professional colleges are different from their general-degree counterparts, these institutes have to spend a lot of money to build infrastructure to impart technical education.

Trinamul MLA Sougata Roy had earlier alleged that while the government had introduced several new courses, including on computer, it had not developed the supporting infrastructure.


Calcutta, July 23: 
Microsoft, IBM, Wipro and NIIT are among the companies that have shown interest in setting up computer infrastructure in the state’s 9,000 Madhyamik and 2,500 Higher Secondary schools.

After his newly-created department’s budget was passed by voice vote, information technology minister Manab Mukherjee said the government was considering proposals from the four companies for supply of hardware and software, besides providing faculty and IT training to existing teachers. IBM has even offered to give certificates to students when they pass out.

Asked whether the multinationals would agree to work in schools in far-flung rural areas, Mukherjee said the state government will decide on schools the companies will have to attend.

“We will have to carry information technology forward in Bengal and give special emphasis on IT culture and IT literacy,” he added.

Mukherjee said the government, which did not float the budget proposals on its website, will set up an exclusive portal jointly with Tata Consultancy before the Pujas.

“Every kind of information on the state government will be available. We plan to launch the portal experimentally before the Pujas,” Mukherjee said.

He said permission had been given to the Reliance group to lay a network of optic fibre cables in the state. Talks are also on with the Mittal group for a similar optic fibre network.

“We have connected at least nine district headquarters with Writers’ Buildings with the help of the department of telecommunications.

Once Reliance lays cables, we will be able to interconnect all the districts at the micro level. We will be able to connect all the sub-divisions and the blocks by this fiscal,” he said.

The minister, however, claimed that the Trinamul Congress-led Calcutta Municipal Corporation was delaying giving the necessary permission to Reliance to dig the roads in the city to lay the cables.

“I can do nothing about it. We will have better connection in the districts while the city will suffer,” he added.

Referring to the Opposition’s oft-repeated accusation that “Bengal had missed the IT bus”, Mukherjee said: “In Andhra Pradesh they have IT for showcase. In Bengal, we want IT for the masses. We are trying to think ahead of the hero of Cybercity (Chandrababu Naidu).”

Earlier, participating in a debate on the IT budget, Trinamul MLAs Sougata Roy, Nirbed Roy and Pankaj Banerjee said Bengal was way behind other states in IT.


Siliguri, July 23: 
Bowing to pressure from hardliners, the central leadership of the Kamtapur Peoples’ Party (KPP) has decided that if they have to hold talks with the government, it would be on the demands for a separate state and recognition of the Kamtapuri language.

At a tumultuous meeting of the KPP central committee at Dupguri last evening, party hardliners forced the top brass not to budge from its statehood and language demands.

The meeting sought to iron out differences between the hawks led by party vice-president Nikhil Roy and the doves, the perceived “soft-line” faction of KPP chief Atul Roy. But there were heated arguments on how the party should respond to chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s invitation for discussions.

Atul Roy told reporters today that the KPP leadership had decided that the party was ready to sit with the government. But the KPP will insist that the demands for a separate state and language are taken up.

“Without these two issues as the focal points of discussion, we are not ready to sit across the table from the chief minister. We cannot compromise with the statehood and the language demands,” Roy said.

Bhattacharjee had, during his north Bengal visit last week, reiterated his offer to sit across the table with the Kamtapuri leadership to solve their problems.

Atul Roy had earlier taken serious exception to KPP leader Mitali Roy’s “unauthorised” meeting with the chief minister in Calcutta, describing it as an “anti-party act”. The KPP chief had even threatened to showcause Mitali, the party’s Jalpaiguri district president. The matter was, however, played down at yesterday’s meeting following vociferous protests from the Jalpaiguri leadership, sources said.

Fissures had appeared within the KPP following the Mitali Roy-led delegation’s meeting with the chief minister earlier this month.

The firebrand KPP leader maintained that the meeting had the sanction of the powerful coordination committee of the collective leadership of the KPP and its frontal organisations, including the All-Kamtapur Students’ Union (AKSU), Kamtapur Women’s Rights Forum (KWRF) and the Kamtapur Language Committee. “Atul Roy had not right to showcause me when the coordination committee had okayed the meet with the chief minister. We had gone to demand the immediate and unconditional release of over 300 frontline Kamtapuri leaders languishing in jails in north Bengal on trumped up charges. We want the government to first release our comrades, then can we sit for any discussion,” Mitali said.

Barring a few front-ranking leaders of the KPP, AKSU and KWRF, most hardline members were arrested in a night-long police swoop throughout north Bengal late last year.


Digha, July 23: 
At least 10 villages between Digha and Sankarpur besides the embankment at the seaside resort were damaged as giant waves lashed the area for the second day today.

But this spurred many tourists into extending their holiday who cancelled their bus tickets to watch the “rare” phenomenon. Some made unscheduled visits just to watch the waves which were around 20 feet high.

Ananda Mohan Banerjee, administrator of the Digha Development Scheme, said they had a tough time tackling enthusiastic tourists. “Normally Mondays are tourist-free days in Digha as most return after the weekend to join work. But today was an exception. Many told me that they had come here only this afternoon after reading reports of the tall waves,” Banerjee said.

Concerned over the extensive damage to the Boulder Sausage Dam which protects Digha from the ocean’s fury, he said it would take time to restore normality. He was seen moving along the dam with the superintending engineer, irrigation, who had come from Calcutta to inspect the damage.

He later said the development and planning department of the state government had sanctioned Rs 1 crore for immediate repair of the damage caused by yesterday’s high tide. The money would also be used to extend the dam up to Sankarpur Mohana, he added.

But the high tide has already flooded 10 villages. Sea water rushed in at least 3 km, destroying fishermen’s huts. The water carried with it large deposits of sand

“The unusual high tides have put many villages in danger,” said Dr Utpal Sar, assistant director, marine, at Contai. “The beach is eroding and we cannot prevent it by planting Lantana type of trees,” he added.


Calcutta, July 23: 
The income-tax department has made arrangements to facilitate smooth and easy submission of tax returns.

Additional return receipt counters have been opened in income-tax offices. The counters will operate on all working days till July 31.

Separate counters have been provided for senior citizens having salary income at the income-tax office at Bamboo Villa.

For the benefit of teaching and non-teaching staff under Calcutta University and schools in and around College Street, return receipt counters have been provided on the premises of the university.

The due date for filing returns for persons (except companies) having salary income or any other income and whose accounts are not subject to audit is July 31.


New Delhi, July 23: 
The Congress has decided to target finance minister Yashwant Sinha over his failure to avert the UTI crisis, firing a fusillade of adjournment motions and seeking his resignation.

By evening, the main Opposition party had moved 16 adjournment motions against Sinha. They will be balloted along with the other motions submitted by the Left in the Lok Sabha tomorrow.

The Congress plans to insist on the exit of Sinha and demand voting on the adjournment motion. Congress president Sonia Gandhi chaired a meeting of party leaders to formulate the floor-strategy on the UTI scandal.

The Congress has also decided to accord priority to a discussion on the Agra Summit. It will be taken up tomorrow at 4 pm when Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee is expected to make a statement. This will be followed up by a discussion under rule 193 that does not provide for voting.

However, in the Zero Hour, the Congress and other Opposition parties are likely to sharpen knives for Sinha on UTI.

Both the People’s Front, led by the Left and the Samjawadi Party, and the Congress are competing with each other to be the first to raise the UTI issue. “After all, the UTI scandal affects many small investors,” a Congress floor manager said.

The Congress camp claimed that Sinha was “vulnerable” as the Vajpayee regime was nervous about the fallout of the scam. “There are forces within who are gunning for Sinha. What we are expected to do is push really hard,” a Congress MP said.

The government is however, not unduly worried about the attack on Sinha as the Opposition ranks are far from united. “Let them first make up their mind about who will raise the issue. We are ready for them,” a parliamentary affairs source said. “We have taken a series of steps to restore investors’ confidence. If Sinha is allowed to make the statement, everything will be clear,” he said.

The Congress contested the claim. A party MP said: “There are wheels within wheels. Once a discussion starts, there will be a chain reaction. Just watch. There will be a lot of action.”

BJP spokesperson V.K. Malhotra today ruled out Sinha’s resignation. “Sinha has not done anything to warrant his resignation,” he said, adding that the Opposition is in the habit of demanding the resignations of ministers, the Prime Minister and the government. “We are ready for discussion on any issue, whether it is the Agra Summit, UTI or Manipur,” he said.

The first day of the monsoon session of Parliament concluded after both Houses adjourned for the day in memory of Nepal’s King Birendra and Queen Aishwarya who were assassinated.

In an obituary reference, Lok Sabha Speaker G.M.C. Balayogi said King Birendra was a “visionary” who would be remembered by future generations for ushering in peaceful political change and multi-party democracy in Nepal.


New Delhi, July 23: 
The RSS today slammed the Hurriyat Conference for refusing to talk with K.C. Pant, the Centre’s interlocutor on Kashmir, while holding a dialogue with “foreign rulers” (Pervez Musharraf).

RSS spokesman M.G. Vaidya described the move as “palpably an anti-national act” and “a blunder committed by the Hurriyat leaders”.

In view of the stepped-up militant violence in the state, the Centre should deal with them with an iron hand and take all steps to ensure that no fresh arms and ammunition are pumped into India by Pakistan, he said.

Asked if the RSS was in favour of the Prime Minister accepting Musharraf’s invitation to visit Pakistan, Vaidya said there was no point in making the trip “in the present atmosphere”. He, however, said the visit was scheduled around December and “we are not sure the present Pakistan regime will continue”.

The spokesman said the failure of the summit had had a good fallout — “the mind of rulers of Pakistan has become more clear to us.”

When the RSS had welcomed the Agra Summit in its resolution on June 30, the background was different, Vaidya claimed.

Musharraf had said he was ready to meet the Indian Prime Minister at any place and time and discuss any issue and had an open mind. But a few days before the summit, his tone and tenor took an about-turn and the summit failed, Vaidya said.

Sena appeal to PM

The Shiv Sena today asked Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee not to visit Pakistan or have any talks with Islamabad till it stops cross-border terrorism in Jammu and Kashmir.


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