New Left bows to old guard at varsity gates
Party muzzles Guha post cry
Buddha in goddess fair debut
Troop build-up on Bangla border
Protest over staff shift
Caretaker cards for Writers’ night shift
Rail link snaps, not marriage of hearts
Police shrink on passing out-eve
Coal majors face dark new year in Jharkhand
Security alarm on Christmas

Calcutta, Dec. 25: 
Apparently, there is nothing remarkable about Surabhi Banerjee and Bharati Mukherjee being appointed vice-chancellors, one of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose Open University and the other of Rabindra Bharati University, in quick succession.

Both have long been close to the CPM leadership, though Mukherjee’s party links go back to a much earlier period. On their way up the career ladder, they have served the party in their own ways, one by penning the “authorised” biography of Jyoti Basu without ever writing on politics and the other by fighting the party’s battle, albeit unsuccessfully, against arch enemy Mamata Banerjee in the last Lok Sabha polls.

In fact, Mukherjee carries forward something of a line: her predecessor at the university, Subhankar Chakraborty, had also fought Mamata in the polls and failed.

To be fair to the two women, there is nothing unique about the Marxists appointing party activists to plum academic posts. This was done as a matter of policy.

Partisan appointments were actually hailed as proof of “democratisation” of education. A vice-chancellor of the party’s choice was considered the best bet for teachers and employees to fall in line with party policy at all levels. That a non-pliant vice-chancellor meant trouble was proved by Santosh Bhattacharyya during his term as vice-chancellor of Calcutta University.

The Banerjee-Mukherjee appointment story is actually remarkable because it shows how the New Left under Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee has yet to push out the Old Left in some areas. It shows how the old party would not loosen its grip over education. Certainly not as much or as fast as in areas like industry or health, in which Bhattacharjee is trying to usher in tentative reforms with help from pro-change Cabinet colleagues like Nirupam Sen and Surya Kanta Mishra.

Education was the first — and the most important — tool with which the Left began taking and spreading its control after it took power in 1977. It was the most effective method of influencing the middle classes. Also, school and college teachers were a large constituency for the party, its importance often vastly disproportionate to its numbers in comparison with the party’s peasant or worker members.

Little wonder then that the Left Front always had a separate cell for only education. Although Biman Bose was — and still is — the convener of this cell, it was Anil Biswas who controlled academic politics, particularly at Calcutta University, long before he became state party secretary.

In recent years, Biswas has taken near-complete control of all levels of education, dictating policy and deciding appointments entirely by himself. Bose continues as convener of the education cell but the infrequency of its meetings now matches its irrelevance.

Curiously, the same Biswas has backed Bhattacharjee in his moves to bring about changes in other spheres. The chief minister seems not too keen to upset Biswas on his turf, as it were, or not to be “doing it now”, as he prescribed for government departments.

Some moves are afoot, though, to make education part of the government’s pro-change agenda. After nearly 20 years, the CPM backtracked on its dogged resistance to teaching English at the primary school level. At long last, the government means business about stopping private tuition by teachers, ensuring their attendance at workplace and generally making the teachers teach.

But Bhattacharjee’s major test in education will be his ability to force the party to drop its political rhetoric and accept that excellence, rather than so-called democratisation, should be the goal. A first step towards that could be to ensure that vice-chancellors are chosen, not because of their party loyalty, but on purely academic considerations.


Calcutta, Dec. 25: 
The Forward Bloc state leadership today disapproved of chairman Kamal Guha’s demand for a post of deputy chief minister and asked him not to push for it.

Guha, elected chairman during the recently concluded state conference of the party, had called for the creation of the post to enable chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee function more smoothly.

It is believed that Guha explained the reasons that prompted him to demand the post before the party leadership, but to no avail. The party made it clear to him that it did not share his views and asked him to drop the demand.

The leaders apparently asked Guha not to raise the issue till the panchayat elections, expected to be held next year, were over.

The Forward Bloc move came after CPM state secretary Anil Biswas reacted sharply to Guha’s demand, saying such a proposal had never been referred to the Left Front by the Forward Bloc or any other partner for discussion.

“It was Guha’s personal opinion and the Front will discuss it only after his party places it before the Front,” Biswas told reporters.

The Forward Bloc is reportedly under pressure from other Front partners, particularly the CPM, for its tirade against the biggest component of the Front, more so as Trinamul Congress chief Mamata Banerjee was trying to gain mileage out of it.

Mamata yesterday urged the Forward Bloc to isolate the CPM within the Front. Though state secretary Ashok Ghosh ignored Mamata’s appeal, the party is not in a very comfortable position within the Front.

The CPM is trying to convince other Front partners that arch-rival Trinamul is taking advantage of the Forward Bloc’s outspokenness. The Forward Bloc leadership has probably realised this and asked Guha to drop his demand.

It is also learnt that the Forward Bloc may not stick to the demand for a ministerial core committee as well. Guha was instrumental in the party pushing for the setting up of the core committee. The CPM had taken exception to that demand too.

Asked whether the CPM was mulling the possibility of setting up the core committee, Biswas said: “Formation of a ministerial committee may come up for discussion if it is officially raised at a Front meeting.”

But CPM insiders indicated that the party is not too happy with the demand. The CPM leadership has questioned the necessity of forming a core committee of ministers.

“There is a Cabinet and all ministers are members of it. We don’t think another committee is required to ease the job of the ministers and (spur) better co-ordination among them,” said a senior CPM leader.


Calcutta, Dec. 25: 
Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee will inaugurate the week-long Banbibi Utsav at Gosaba in the Sunderbans on January 2.

This will be the first time a chief minister will inaugurate the festival of Banbibi, a goddess worshipped by villagers of all communities in the Sunderbans. She is particularly venerated by those who venture into the forests, home to the famous Royal Bengal Tigers.

Bhattacharjee will inaugurate the festival at Tagore Society for Rural Development at Rangabelia, Gosaba, in South 24-Parganas. The Utsav will continue till January 8.

The festival has been organised by the department of Sunderbans development in association with Bengal Chamber of Commerce. Several organisations like the Sree Ramakrishna Ashram, Nimpith, Ramakrishna Mission, Narendrapur, and the Tagore society will play an active role in the festival.

“The festival is aimed at creating a deep awareness about protecting and nurturing the Biosphere Reserve and World Heritage Site, a combined location, the only one of its kind in the country, along with 68 such locations in 38 countries of the world,” said Kanti Ganguly, minister in charge of Sunderbans development.

He exhorted the people of the Sunderbans to participate in the festival. Cultural events and other entertainment programmes will be organised during the fair and traditional arts and folk culture showcased.

Stalls and pavilions sponsored by the state government, NGOs, and chambers of commerce would be set up to depict their plans and programmes for the area so as to harness people’s support and encourage their involvement. There will also be a health camp and crafts bazaar.

“We also want to highlight issues of the area through daily seminars attended by Central and state ministers and experts from all fields. Seminars will try to underline the problems faced by the people like erosion of embankments, storms, cyclones and other natural calamities,” the minister added.

A committee with Bhattacharjee as the chief adviser and other ministers, all MPs, MLAs, sabhadhipatis, panchayat pradhans of the area, and NGOs have been formed to make the festival a grand success.

Ganguly is the president of the panel. In addition, 13 sub-committees have been set up to ensure that the festival is conducted smoothly.


Sheikhpara (Murshidabad), Dec. 25: 
Tension is rising along the border in the Raninagar police station area following a massive mobilisation by Bangladesh Rifles since last night.

The troops concentration began after a miscreant, who crossed over from Bangladesh, was shot dead by Border Security Force jawans yesterday. Residents fear a retaliation any moment.

Domkal sub-divisional police officer Ajay Thakur said Rapid Action Force and State Armed Police personnel have been deployed to assist the border troops.

BSF assistant commandant Rajinder Singh said a gang of miscreants from Rajshahi in Bangladesh had crossed over into Indian territory yesterday to smuggle sand from the chars of Padma at Harurdanga village under Raninagar police station yesterday. “The miscreants, who had come in four boats, were challenged by our patrol party. Our boys, who were in a small boat, were outnumbered by the Bangladeshi criminals who tried to snatch the boat,” Singh said. The BSF jawans then opened fire, killing one miscreant on the spot.

He was identified as Mehmuddin Sheikh, 26, of Rajshahi district. Another intruder, who is Sheikh’s brother, was arrested. Two others, who suffered injuries, managed to escape across the border to Bangladesh.

The administration is concerned over the mobilisation of forces along the border in Bangladesh after the incident, said Raninagar II block development officer Pankaj Mukherjee. “We are taking no chances. We have beefed up security along the border. Raids from the other side of the border have become a regular feature these days,” he added.

Bankura protest: Trinamul Congress supporters today demonstrated against the “alarming mismanagement and lack of infrastructure facilities” in Bankura’s main hospital, where the victims of yesterday’s bus accident at Chenchuria have been admitted. Six persons, including four school students, were killed and at least 35 students were injured in the accident.

A 14-year-old boy was shifted to SSKM hospital today as there was no scanning machine in the hospital. Two others were rushed to SSKM hospital yesterday. The Bishnupur Municipality sanctioned Rs 10,000 for the treatment of the students, mostly from poor families.


Burdwan, Dec. 25: 
Citu today started an indefinite agitation at the production centre of the state government-owned Durgapur Projects Limited in protest against the authorities’ decision to recall 25 employees from its Calcutta office from January 1, 2002. Employees at the Calcutta office have started a relay hungerstrike from Thursday.

With DPL passing through a critical financial phase, it has been decided to wind up the Calcutta office, located in a rented property on Shakespeare Sarani, and transfer the employees to Durgapur.

“Our decision was aimed at utilising the staff sitting idle in Calcutta. There is a staff shortage at the production plant and an embargo on fresh appointments. Naturally, we decided to transfer employees from non-productive areas”, said power minister Mrinal Banerjee said.


Calcutta, Dec. 25: 
The maintenance staff at Writers’ Buildings is being issued special identity cards, which will authorise members to stay in the building overnight.

“We have decided on this after Monday’s incident, in which a sweeper died, causing a lot of confusion,” said public works minister Amar Chowdhury on Tuesday.

The decision was announced after the minister held discussions with police officers on the sweeper’s death that created a furore. The body was found near one of the building gates and lay there for three hours before the police took it to Medical College Hospital.

Chowdhury, who decided to skip his Christmas holiday on Tuesday to clear pending files, acknowledged that outsiders do stay overnight in the Secretariat.

He said last Friday’s midnight check on the civilians, staying in the building, was conducted by the police as part of the beefed-up security arrangements following the December 13 terrorist attack on Parliament.

“Though they did not find any outsiders, the count was 72, all of them belonging to my department,” Chowdhury pointed out. Some of them did not have identity cards on them.

He said temporary identity cards would be issued by the weekend. Proper cards, with photographs pasted, would be issued within a month, he said. “These cards will have to be carried along with the usual identity cards issued by the government,” the minister added.

Most of the men who spend the night at Writers’, besides the police on duty, are caretaker staff and PWD electricians and sweepers. The minister clarified that there were no permanent staff quarters in the state Secretariat. Instead, there were sheds, under which the staff sleep at night. There are about 100 men in charge of the building’s maintenance.


New Delhi, Dec. 25: 
The train that chugs over the border between India and Pakistan is about to stop but Muslims left on either side by the Partition will continue to marry one another.

Their logic is simple: diplomatic relations or no diplomatic relations, they will not let anything cast a shadow on the cross-border marriage bazaar.

“What is going on in the political sphere is none of our concern. It is our right to marry first cousins and we will continue to do that,” said a resident of Gali Paharwali in the walled city, in which there are hundreds of Pakistani women who have married their first cousins and other close relatives in India.

Neither the senior citizens in these families nor the Muslim clergy here see anything wrong with these “inter-country” marriages. While the elders insist on marrying off their wards irrespective of political hostility, maulvis and muftis claim they are not concerned with nationality while performing a nikaah.

“We check if both the bride and groom have given consent and are practising Muslims. That suffices,” said Qari Idris, a veteran of many nikaahs. Such marriage ceremonies are even conducted over the phone when either partner runs into visa problems.

There is no record of how many Indo-Pak marriages are made every year, but informed sources said the number was well over a hundred.

The process is simple: young boy/girl goes to meet his/her relatives across the border, someone in the family spots him/her; he passes the word around; matchmaking starts. Tricky issues like citizenship and nationality are left to the “will of Allah”.

Though law requires registration of all such marriages, the foreigners’ registration and regulatory office comes into the picture only after a Pakistani has married an Indian citizen. There are several recorded instances of families being separated when requests for citizenship under the clause “Married to an Indian” are turned down because papers are incomplete.

Silent coolies

With the friendship train that rattles along the tracks three to four times a week having just one more journey to make before year-end, thousands of Muslim families will be unable to visit each other.

Travellers between the two states face formidable difficulties as it is. There is a lone road crossing at Wagah, but it is open only six hours a day and then only to foreigners and foreign-registered vehicles. Locals must take the train or buses that are about to be consigned to history.

Goods make their way across the frontier only after intricate procedures, according to border guards.

A cargo of dried fruit from Afghanistan, for example, is stopped some 150-m from the borderline.

Coolies then carry the goods to the line, where they transfer them to coolies on the other side to be loaded onto a different truck.

“Border guards make sure the coolies do not talk to each other,” one frontier patrolman, a Pakistani Ranger, said.

So the rail link is vital, especially for the majority for whom the cost of an air ticket is out of the question.

“This is too difficult, especially for Muslims with half their relatives in Pakistan and half in India,” said Aslam, 33, as he boarded the Attari train on Monday at the vast, Victorian Gothic station in Lahore.

As a glowing orange sun rose over the teeming platform, other travellers echoed the complaint.

“It is not fair. War is not fair. The Indian government is being unfair to poor people. It will be impossible,” said Kashif Ali Khan.


Imphal, Dec. 25: 
As many as 49 youths aspiring for jobs in the police department and the Manipur Rifles were declared “unfit” for the rigours of policing a day before they were to pass out from the Manipur Police Training Centre at Pangei near here.

All 49 trainees — 35 seeking entry into the police force and 14 aspiring for jobs in the Manipur Rifles — were disqualified for the same reason: inadequate height and chest width. These youth had been selected for training at the police institute during a recruitment rally last year.

The home department has instituted a departmental inquiry into the recruitment drive. Inspector-general of police (administration) Thangthuam will conduct the probe.

The minimum stipulated height for a policeman in Manipur is five feet, three inches. Each of the 49 disqualified youth was found to be shorter, director-general of police A.A. Siddiqui told The Telegraph today.

Denying that the trainees had been discriminated against, the DGP said over 100 police constables and Manipur Rifles jawans who had the requisite physical characteristics and aptitude passed out from the same training centre yesterday.

He said the disqualification of 49 trainees was based on the rules laid down in the Assam Police Manual, which is followed by the police departments of all the northeastern states.

The manual states that fresh recruits can be discharged if they are found to be unfit during the course of training.

Siddiqui said a committee was constituted to re-check the height, weight and chest width of each candidate undergoing training at the police institute at Pangei.

The committee discovered that 49 of the trainees did not measure up to the standards of the police and Manipur Rifles.

On the possibility of foul play on the part of the doctors and officials involved in the recruitment drive, Siddiqui said the inquiry panel would look into all aspects. He said the report would be submitted to the Manipur administration.

The 49 trainees who were disqualified said they should not have been penalised for the selection board’s fault.

Saying it was unfair of the police department to disqualify them just a day before their passing-out parade, the trainees questioned why a height measuring instrument was not used at the time of their recruitment.


Ranchi, Dec. 25: 
Power connections to Coal India subsidiaries Central Coalfields Limited (CCL) and Bharat Coking Coal Limited (BCCL) will be snapped from January 1 following the public sector units’ failure to clear bills amounting to a staggering Rs 400 crore.

With the payment pending since 1992, the offices, collieries and residential colonies of these subsidiary companies, which are spread over Ranchi, Hazaribagh and Dhanbad districts are likely to start the new year on a dark note.

The Jharkhand State Electricity Board (JSEB) has also ordered the snapping of power supplies to more than a dozen state government departments after their failure to pay up the money they owed the board over the past year.

According to JSEB chairman Rajiv Ranjan, apart the state government topped the list of defaulters, followed closely by Heavy Engineering Corporation Limited (Ranchi) with outstandings of over Rs 300 crore, CCL with Rs 250 crore, and BCCL with Rs 150 crore dues.

Ranjan said because of the location of the Assembly, secretariat and other government offices within the HEC complex, the JSEB has not put the ailing company on its “hit-list” at the moment.

He added that though numerous notices had been served on HEC over the past year, the board has not initiated any action on the once engineering major more as “a humane gesture”.

The JSEB chairman, however, pointed out that Damodar Valley Corporation (DVC), which supplies power to CCL and BCCL on behalf of the JSEB, has been asked to cut off power connections to the two PSUs with effect from January 1, following the board’s failure to realise their dues over the past decade. The board chairman added that disconnection notices were served on CCL and BCCL four days ago.

Ranjan said the Jharkhand government has been the worst defaulter with power dues now totalling Rs 242 crore.

“Though monthly bills averaging Rs 20 crore to Rs 22 crore have been regularly raised on the state government, no efforts have been made by it to clear the power bills with the result that total outstandings have now mounted to Rs 242 crore,” he added.

To make matters worse, the Jharkhand electricity board chief pointed out, of the Rs 127-crore outlay fixed for JSEB in the annual plan, the state government has failed to release even a single paisa so far in the current fiscal.

According to the board chairman, compared to the Rs 50-crore per annum earnings of the JSEB before the creation of Jharkhand state, the board’s revenue has now shot up to an average of Rs 75 crore a year. Yearly expenses of the board gross up to Rs 86 crore.


Behrampur, Dec. 25: 
The authorities today stepped up security measures and patrolling in the Christian-dominated areas of Kandhamal and Gajapati districts.

The precautionary measures have been taken in view of the recent clashes between the Christians and tribals of the two districts.

Deputy inspector-general of police (southern range) R.P. Singh said adequate police personnel have been deployed in the sensitive areas in Gajapati and Kandhamal districts to avoid any clashes during Christmas celebrations. The police recently reviewed the law and order situation in the two districts and the security measures were taken as a follow-up, a senior police official said. However, no untoward incident has been reported.

Three electrocuted: Three persons were electrocuted at the Papadahandi block of Nowrangpur district last night. According to the police, three persons of Mochia village died when an 11-KV electricity supply line snapped near Sirisi village, about eight km from Papadahandi.

Manu Saura was killed on the spot when he stepped on the live wire. Rupu Saura, Manu’s nephew, and his friend Kesari Gouda were also electrocuted when they tried to rescue him. The police recovered the three bodies this morning and sent them for post-mortem.

Raigarh tense: The efficacy of the peace committee formed to pacify the warring groups at Raighar has come under a cloud as irate tribals abducted the Raighar panchayat samity chairman recently.

Tension has risen between the tribals and the Bangladeshi settlers in the area over land dispute. On December 21, The samity chairman and one of his associates were abducted while they were on their way to Guchhaguda village. Both were rescued by the police after 48 hours.


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