Rescue act too much, too late in bus tragedy
Hospital turns home to dead
Reckless rider dodges death
Medic garb for state teachers
Harmony meet hits wall of mistrust
Horror through teen�s lens
Cong hindsight heat on Atal
Bharatnatyam to rescue traffic cops
Musharraf hits Delhi where it hurts
CBI shift punches hole in Bhopal tragedy extradition net

Calcutta, May 27: 

Cyclist, club first off block

Seven divers to fish for survivors and bodies, four cranes to lift the bus, two speed-boats in case the divers failed and 150 cars to ship the injured to hospitals.

The rescue-and-relief operation following the crash of the passenger-laden bus into Pocha Khal this morning matched the magnitude of the tragedy.

Only that the effort did not help to save many lives.

Just about a dozen persons have escaped death. While two of the survivors helped themselves out of the canal that was now a deathbed for 46 of their co-passengers, another was rescued unconsciousness by the local people, much before the arrival of the rescue machinery.

Bablu Mandal, cycling towards Malancha, and the passengers of a milk-van were the first to come across the accident site where the bus had plunged headlong into the canal after its right tyre gave way.

Mandal reversed his direction and headed for a local club, a few hundred metres away, where he had seen its members playing cards.

The milk-van occupants stopped on seeing Bhola Sardar � tending his vegetable garden � on its way and informed him about calamity.

Mandal along with Nitai, Bapi, Shambhu and their companions gathered what they could and rushed to the spot. Sardar played messenger and relayed the news to his neighbours who, in turn, did likewise.

But when the local rescuers reached the spot, it was too late. They only managed to fish out a man � still lying unconscious at Calcutta National Medical College and Hospital. The other two survivors, Rabin Chandra Mandal and Monica Pal, had already swam to safety.

�We saw some people covered in mire walking away from the khal,� one of the witnesses recalled. �But we were too busy with those in the channel to take any notice of them.�

With shovels to dig the bed of the khal as well as hammers and pick-axes to break the windows of the bus, the rescuers got to work. �But the water was too dirty and stinking and we barely managed to fish out five bodies,� Sardar said.

By then, word had reached the Parama police outpost � some 3 km from the spot � and the official rescue machinery began to arrive by 11 am, about 45 minutes after the tragedy. The rescue team also included police officials, fire brigade personnel, civil defence men and divers.

To prevent the bodies from floating away along the channel, the nearest sluice gates were shut down. The divers then began to fish out the bodies.

The cranes were pressed into service to lift the bus from the bed of the khal. The windows of the bus were all broken but, expectedly, no one was inside.

Instead of shipping the injured to hospitals, some of the 150 vehicles lined up took the bodies to M.R. Bangur Hospital. The remains were then taken to the morgues for post-mortem and to allow local people like Assaah Ahmed and Dhiren Chakraborty, who thought their relatives could have been in the ill-fated bus, to identify the bodies.


Calcutta, May 27: 
Mugneeram Ramcoowar Bangur Hospital has never seen so many dead from a single incident. The South 24-Parganas district hospital near Tollygunge Metro station was the first stop for the 46 dead in today�s bus tragedy.

Superintendent Debashis Haldar received the news a little before noon. �There�s been a major bus accident at Chowbagha� many passengers have died. They are being taken out of the water� be prepared for at least 30 bodies�� said the call from the district magistrate�s office.

An emergency meeting of senior hospital officials decided that the male orthopaedics ward on the ground floor would be readied for the dead. The few patients there were shifted to the rear end and doctors and nurses were briefed. �Only the dead are being brought here for identification, the injured have been taken to National (Medical College & Hospital),� Haldar said.

The bodies started arriving a little after 1 pm. A Matador van brought in four of the lifeless, all male. A police vehicle then arrived, followed by another Matador and then another, each with six or seven of the deceased. �They told us 30, we�ve counted over 40,� said a nurse.

By 2.15 pm, 46 bodies lay prostrate in a row on the beds � 33 men, eight women and five children, the youngest being a four-year-old girl.

By this time, the crowd outside the building had multiplied. Relatives and friends of the passengers milled around the district officials. They came from villages, mostly under the district�s Bhangar police station area.

The majority of the dead were identified by their kin, who were told to queue up outside the ward and enter in groups of four. Gun-wielding guards controlled the 1,000-strong crowd.


Calcutta, May 27: 
For one, it was plain luck. For the other, it was the old-fashioned disregard for civic sense.

Till 10.15 am today, Monica Pal and Rabin Chandra Mandal would have laughed if someone told them that truth is stranger than fiction. But not any more. Not after being among the handful of survivors of Calcutta�s worst accident in recent memory.

Pal and Mandal are among the dozen survivors of the tragedy. One of them is still senseless. He is being treated at Calcutta National Medical College and Hospital and has not been able to give his own name as yet.

Mandal, like most people, was intent on not leaving the foot-board. The conductor could go inside and be suffocated to death, was how Mandal had fobbed him off. Little did he know that his words would come true.

The conductor went inside to charge the passengers their fare, leaving Mandal on the foot-board. So when the bus toppled into the canal, he was the first to get off it and swim to the bank. He, however, did not continue his College Street-bound journey, choosing to return home after the narrow escape.

Mandal was closely followed by Pal to the bank. But she was plain lucky, Pal admitted after getting over her surprise of being alive.

Pal was the third passenger from the window on the front seat of the bus, just behind the driver�s cabin. She had boarded the bus from its terminus at Ghatakpukur but two other women had boarded it before her.

If the two women had not dropped off earlier, leaving the seat beside the window for her, Pal, too, would have been a victim.

The first thing she heard was a loud bang. It was only later that she realised that it was the sound of a bursting tyre. The bang was followed by a sharp jerk that found her lurching forward to the gate. It was that lurch � and the seat beside the window � that finally saved her. The women sitting beside her, where she was sitting a few minutes ago, were dead.

One of them, Latika, had even struck up a conversation with her. �It�s unimaginable that I am still alive and talking to you while she has been dead for quite some time,� Pal said.

Pal, like Mandal, thought it wise to discontinue her journey to Keshtopur where she was to meet a relative.

�Better go home. The day does not seem all right for travelling,� she said before returning to the bus-stop to board a bus to Ghatakpukur.


Calcutta, May 27: 
The government plans to introduce regular health check-up for primary schoolchildren by their teachers.

Teachers of government primary schools will be trained in preliminary healthcare. According to an estimate by the West Bengal Board of Primary Education, about one crore students will benefit from the scheme.

Though this is the first time that the government has introduced a health project, it had earlier initiated schemes to offer snacks to primary schoolchildren. The government also provides uncooked rice at subsidised rates to those who attend primary schools.

It is learnt that the government will train some 1.2 lakh teachers, who will attend health camps. However, officials said it is not possible for the primary education board to organise camps for all the teachers. �So we have planned to train some teachers, who in turn will train their colleagues,� said Jyotiprakash Ghosh, the primary board president, adding that the scheme was set for a September launch.

He said a two-day workshop had been organised at the State Council for Educational Research and Training (SCERT) from today. Senior officials of the primary education department and the health department as well as some schoolteachers are attending the workshop.

But before launching the scheme, the government will provide a medical kit to all primary schools. Each kit will have a thermometer, a pencil torch and some medicines for treating minor diseases.

The trained teachers will examine students regularly and, when needed, will consult government doctors. The doctors can then recommend a child patient to a government hospital, if necessary.

A survey by the health department has revealed that primary schoolchildren in rural areas suffer mostly from malnutrition, skin diseases and stomach upsets. Long-term malnutrition, in turn, leads to tuberculosis among children.

The teachers will be especially asked to identify such children and refer them to local health centres for treatment.

A health department official said many children do not get balanced nutrition, resulting in tuberculosis and skin ailments. �In the workshop, we will particularly highlight this aspect so that teachers make the children aware about the importance of a balanced diet. It is basically a balanced diet which keeps children healthy,� he added.

The government has also decided to ask NGOs to monitor the scheme in primary schools and submit a quarterly report.

Ghosh said that initially the scheme would be limited to the primary schools. �But in the long run, we have plans to bring children studying in pre-primary educational institutions under the scheme,� he added.

According to officials, heads of primary institutions have been informed about the programme and their participation has been sought.

Officials of the health department are co-ordinating the project with the school department to ensure that children get medical attention when referred to health centres.


Ahmedabad, May 27: 
Every time the National Commission for Minorities takes one step forward to initiate confidence-building measures in Gujarat, it is forced to take two steps back.

First, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad laid down conditions to begin dialogue with leaders of the minority community. Now, when the party has softened its stand, the latter chose to stay away from a joint meeting of leaders from both the communities convened by the commission.

Members from the minority community backed out of Saturday�s meeting at the last moment, apparently because the commission had invited the �perpetrators of violence�. They are said to have expressed strong reservations about conferring with VHP and Bajrang Dal representatives who, they said, were responsible for �the worst communal riots� in the history of Gujarat.

Reacting to the allegations, VHP leader Acharya Giriraj Kishor said: �We know their attitude. They (Muslims) are the root cause of all the problems the nation is facing today. Yet, we are open to a dialogue.�

Officially, of course, the commission maintains that �the atmosphere is not yet conducive for a Hindu-Muslim meeting�.

Earlier, it had expressed optimism after chief minister Narendra Modi conceded all major demands made by the minority leaders in their first meeting after the riots broke out.

The meeting was held in the presence of the Centre-appointed security adviser to the state, K.P.S. Gill, who enjoys the confidence of the minority community of late.

Vice-chairman of the commission Tarlochan Singh had described the meeting as a �good beginning� and claimed that next time it would be a joint meeting. �We will make sure that leaders from the VHP and the Bajrang Dal also attend,� he had said.

Nishar Ahmed Ansari, a minority leader, too, had claimed that they were ready for dialogue with representatives from the majority community.

But that meet is yet to materialise. The commission had organised two meetings in the past. The first was attended by leaders of both the communities � separately � and the second saw only a gathering of minority leaders as the VHP had boycotted it. With Saturday�s meeting postponed yet again, the panel�s fourth visit to the state went waste.

When asked why the meeting was postponed, social defence secretary R.M. Patel, in charge of organising the event, said he was not aware of the reason behind the decision which �was communicated to me to inform all the concerned organisations and members who were supposed to attend�. VHP state general secretary Dilip Trivedi confirmed that the party had been informed about the �postponement of the meet�.

Mohsin Qadri, part of the 16-member committee set up by the commission to initiate dialogue with leaders from the majority community, was more forthcoming. �There is no point talking confidence-building measures with the VHP or the Bajrang Dal,� he said. �(They) are culprits in the eyes of the entire minority community,� he added.

He, however, pointed out that the leaders of the minority community were not averse to meeting �genuine, sensible and true Hindu leaders�.

�We are ready to have a dialogue with mahants and sants who are respected by the majority community. But there is no point holding a meeting with criminals and communal elements. It would give them undue legitimacy,� Qadri said.

The Imam of the Jama Masjid in the city, Mufti Shabir Ahmed, however, cited a different reason for his inability to attend the meet. �At the moment, our priority is to rehabilitate those rendered homeless in the riots. We don�t have time for table talks,� he said.


Panaji, May 27: 
Shocked by the violence and brutality that tore apart the social fabric of Gujarat, a 15-year-old now tells the world his story as seen through the lens.

Titled And They Killed Him Again, Sahir Raza�s roaming exhibition contains 79 stills from the Gujarat carnage. A student of Class XI, Sahir says he took the photographs while in Gujarat between April 7 and 10.

�I�ve been taking photographs since (the age of) nine,� says Sahir. He used a Nikon FE camera, and used up some 20 rolls of 24 exposures each to etch on film the images he wanted the world to take note of.

For a 15-year-old, the situation was complex. So, to make his point, Sahir included a lot of subjects: victims of the carnage, relief camps where an estimated one lakh largely-Muslim victims have taken refuge, burnt houses, buildings and shops, even abandoned bodies.

Did he face any tense moment? �While shooting, not really,� recalls Sahir. �But, at one shop I happened to call my father abbu (the Urdu word for dad). Suddenly, the shopkeeper started shouting out to people: �Here�s this boy who�s calling his father abbu, he must be a Muslim....�

�It was very scary and the feeling remains with you. To realise that just the name of a person is enough to get him murdered,� says he.

�I�ve never seen a carnage before. My photographs should raise awareness of how bad the situation is in Gujarat. Just being there scares you. People (benumbed by the wanton brutality and now huddled in relief camps) have not been to their homes for 40 to 50 days, even for a look,� says Sahir.

The exhibition has so far travelled from Delhi to Mumbai and now to Goa, from where Sahir plans to head for Orissa and Kerala. While young Sahir worked on the photographs, his father Gauhar Raza hastily put together a 34-minute video-film titled Junoon ke Badte Kadam (Evil Stalks the Land).

For Sahir�s father, this is not the first such film. An electrical engineer from the Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi and a scientist by profession, Gauhar has 12 video films to his credit.

Based on scientific research and development, his earlier films dealt with topics like eminent Indian scientists (Homi Bhabha and S.S. Bhatnagar), computer virus, computers in India, nuclear disarmament, and related themes.

A film on communal violence was, therefore, for him a different proposition. �This is an extremely important subject that has to do more with the future of the country,� says Gauhar.

According to Gauhar, though the English media is doing a good job of building public awareness of the ghastly events in Gujarat, �one per cent� of the enormity of the situation is being portrayed.

He fears that intense religion-based intolerance could yield an Indian form of fascism, just as race-based hatred led to fascism in Germany.

�I come from Aligarh, the city of riots, and in 1984 saw Delhi burn (during the anti-Sikh riots),� he says, adding that the terror unleashed in Gujarat was much more shocking and at a much larger scale.


New Delhi, May 27: 
The Congress today questioned the rationale behind Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee�s statement in Manali yesterday, wondering what prevented him from taking action against Pakistan after the December 13 attack on Parliament.

Congress spokesman Jaipal Reddy accused Vajpayee of indulging in �academic theories� to cover up a �total lack of well-considered policy� on Jammu and Kashmir.

�It is a fact that he was Prime Minister when the attack on Parliament took place,� Reddy said, while seeking an explanation from the government. �He must explain why he made such a remark. It is a confusing statement,� he added.

Reddy, while declining to pass judgement on Vajpayee�s move to go on vacation to Manali when the nation was on the brink of war, dubbed his remarks as �oral musings� and �holiday musings� of the Prime Minister. �Instead of Prime Minister, he has become a prime commentator.�

The Congress urged US President George Bush, Russian President Valdimir Putin, French President Jacques Chirac and British Prime Minister Tony Blair to do �much more than mere appealing� to President Pervez Musharraf to end cross-border terrorism in Kashmir.

Reddy did not attach much importance to Musharraf�s speech tonight, saying it would be meaningless if he failed to give a firm and categorical commitment on the issue as also on handing over the 20 terrorists wanted by India.

�We expect world leaders to do much more than mere appealing to Pakistan. We expect General Musharraf to make firm and categorical statement in his speech with regard to his own urgent commitments on January 12 on cross-border terrorism,� Reddy said.

Reddy said Musharraf in his broadcast to the nation on January 12 made a lot of promises but had done nothing on the issues since then. �We have no news even after five months and world leaders are still appealing to Pakistan on these two issues. So long as the signal on these issues are unambiguously cleared, his speech tonight would not serve any purpose.�


Chennai, May 27: 
Chennai traffic police constables are undergoing a crash course in the basics of Bharatnatyam to make them more cheerful, efficient and to help enhance the confidence levels in motorists.

The idea is not only to reduce the drudgery of the traffic policeman�s job but assure motorists who encounter this �new aesthetics� in traffic policing that they have a friend in the roadside constables, said Chennai joint commissioner of police (traffic) Uma Ganapathy Sastry.

�We do not want them (the constables) to perform Bharatnatyam on the streets; that is not the idea,� said Sastry.

The five-day refresher course, designed by Bharatnatyam exponent Padma Subramaniam, trains traffic policemen on how to infuse the elements of abhinaya (conveying an idea or sentiment by gesture) and mudras (hand poses in dancing) into the 10 basic traffic signals which they use on duty every day.

�We have initially selected 150 traffic constables on a purely voluntary basis for the training, besides training a trainer for them and they are very enthusiastic,� said Sastry. The objective is to make traffic signalling �very graceful and steady�, said Sastry, adding, it could make a world of difference to the semiotics of traffic regulation.

Subramaniam has already trained a group of trainers, who underwent a 15-day crash course in abhinaya. She plans to wrap up the coaching sessions for all 1,800 constables with a day or two of training for the other nuances of this ancient dance form.

�Since we are in Tamil Nadu, Bharatnatyam was the natural choice,� said Sastry. �If we were in Kerala, we might have thought of Kathakali, but we are also thinking of how elements of other classical dance forms could be explored to make traffic signalling graceful.�

A pause, a smiling gesture and a nod with some bhava and rhythm are also a great �stress reliever� for the constables, said Sastry.

This is not the only innovation taken up by the Chennai traffic police. According to Sastry, the intensified spot-fine system has done miracles in curbing traffic violations and enforcing general traffic discipline. Stringent pollution norms have also been enforced.

�From January 1 to May 15, we have already collected over Rs 2 crore through spot-fines, compared to Rs 40 lakh during the corresponding period last year,� he said. �We have also been able to reduce fatal accidents by more than 20 per cent.�

Sastry said such traffic management innovations were necessary because Chennai with a vehicle population of nearly 14,00,000 had only 100 sub-inspector-level traffic officers compared to Calcutta, for instance, which had 300 officers for a vehicle population of 8-9,00,000.

Among the new traffic management innovations was the Citizen For Safe Road, a body where any citizen, who subscribed to the Ten Commandments of traffic rules could become a member. Each member is given a kit to help spread the good word about road safety.

Moreover, the Chennai traffic police recently banned the use of cell-phones while driving. Sastry said he realised the urgency of someone wanting to call the motorist, but drivers should stop at the nearest available safe spot and then take the call.


New Delhi, May 27: 
It was Pervez Musharraf�s turn to raise the ante against India.

After hearing Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee blow hot and cold all through last week, the Pakistan President this evening delivered a hard-hitting speech where he questioned India�s treatment of its minorities, carrying the war of words right into the Indian heartland.

Not content to confine his attack to Kashmir, Musharraf, well aware that his speech was being closely watched around the globe, said Pakistan had noted atrocities by Hindu fundamentalists against Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, and scheduled castes.

The reference to Gujarat was also meant to politely tell the rest of the world that India, despite railing against Pakistan and Islamic fundamentalism, had its own brand of religious bigots. At the same time, the address was meant to dispel doubts of Kashmiris about Pakistan�s support for their �liberation struggle� and shore the flagging morale of those in the Valley who have turned to Islamabad for support in the fight against Delhi.

Describing Abdul Gani Lone as a martyr, Musharraf denied that Pakistan was behind the assassination of the moderate Hurriyat leader last week. Though Delhi had not officially blamed Islamabad, merely saying that militants had killed the voice of moderation in the Valley, privately there was no hesitation in saying that Pakistan�s Inter-Services Intelligence was behind the murder.

Indian intelligence agencies said the plan to kill Lone was hatched at a meeting of the Islamic Jehadi Council, in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, just 10 days before the murder. The meeting was attended by ISI officers in Muzaffarabad, Indian agencies said. They believe Lone�s statements asking foreign militants to leave Kashmir was seen as a dangerous step by the ISI.

The agencies said the ISI was scared, especially after the Dubai meeting last month with Abdul Kayoom that the track two diplomacy, encouraged by the US think-tanks and Kashmiris living in the UK and the US, could prove dangerous to Islamabad�s interest. There was the genuine fear that given the mood against violence in Kashmir, Lone could upset Pakistan�s calculations. The fear of free and fair elections in Kashmir was also another factor that went against Lone, the agencies said.

Musharraf today asked India why Lone�s killers were not apprehended. He said there were enough police, security forces and soldiers stationed in Kashmir. How did they escape when the shootout took place in front of a crowd of onlookers, he asked.

The President left the question unanswered to raise doubts among Kashmiris about the identity of Lone�s murderers. This line could be later taken up by the hardliners to rouse people�s anger against Delhi.

For some time after September 11, and especially since the attacks on the Jammu and Kashmir Assembly and the Indian Parliament and India�s aggressive diplomacy, Musharraf had been on the defensive. At best, Islamabad had been content to deny India�s charges that it was abetting terrorism.

Today, the general shed all pretence of a defensive strategy and counter-attacked. He spoke of India�s human rights record in Kashmir and said Delhi should allow rights groups and other international organisations to investigate. The government has repeatedly refused requests from organisations like Amnesty International to send teams to Kashmir, saying India had an active human rights commission, an independent judiciary and a vibrant press, all of which acted as watchdogs.

Today�s speech was also meant to embarrass the Vajpayee government. By remarking on India�s treatment of its Muslim population, Musharraf hit Delhi where it hurt most. In the past, whenever Islamabad had tried to play the Islamic card, Delhi countered it by saying that India had the world�s second-largest population of Muslims, next only to Indonesia, living side by side with Hindus and Christians.


Bhopal, May 27: 
Seventeen years after the world�s worst industrial disaster killed and maimed thousands in Bhopal, the Indian government seems to have decided to go soft on the former US multinational, Union Carbide, its chairman and main accused in the tragedy.

Following an order from the external affairs ministry, the Central Bureau of Investigation has filed an appeal before Bhopal�s chief judicial magistrate seeking to reduce charges against Warren Anderson, the then chairman, from culpable homicide to negligence.

In its appeal last week, which sought amendment of charges against Anderson, the Union Carbide Corporation USA and the Union Carbide Eastern Inc. (Hong Kong), the CBI said: �The ministry of external affairs vide communication dated 20.3.2002 has inter alia required amended warrant of arrest u/s 304A IPC in the matter of extradition of Mr Warren Anderson.� Anderson has been absconding since the disaster struck on the intervening night of December 2-3, 1984.

When Anderson failed to appear in court to face trial, a non-bailable arrest warrant under Sections 304(II), 324, 326, 429 read with Section 35 of the Indian Penal Code was issued on April 10, 1992.

The CBI was asked to �execute� the extradition order. But the agency failed to bring Anderson to India from the US.

Section 304 (II) covers culpable homicide, 324 and 326 deal with voluntarily causing hurt and grievous hurt, respectively, by dangerous weapons or means, and 429 deals with mischief by killing or maiming cattle of any value or any animal of the value of Rs 50. Read with Section 35 (when such act is criminal by reason of its being done with a criminal knowledge or intention), the charges were serious.

The CBI�s prayer now is to recall this non-bailable warrant. The agency wants to issue a fresh warrant modified under Sections 304A (causing hurt by negligence), 336 (act endangering life or personal safety of others) and 338 (causing grievous hurt by act endangering life or personal safety of others).

Bringing the charges down from culpable homicide to negligence means Anderson�s extradition would stand cancelled as he cannot be extradited under the new charges.

In the appeal, the CBI justified that the chargesheet of the case filed on December 1, 1987, was against 12 accused persons. All 12 were charged under the same sections � 304(II), 326, 324 and 429 read with Section 35. Nine of the 12 accused appeared before the court.

The three who did not appear or face trial were Anderson, the Union Carbide Corporations, USA and the Union Carbide Eastern Inc., Hong Kong.

The nine who faced trial later approached the Supreme Court. After hearing the arguments, the apex court in its judgment dated September 13, 1996, held that �prosecution under Section 35 read with 304A IPC is prima facie� against four of the petitioners and �substantive offence u/s 304A IPC could be framed� against the other five.

All nine were Indian executives working with Union Carbide.

In its appeal seeking amendment of charges against the three who did not appear for trial, the CBI cited the example of the Supreme Court�s order to reduce charges against the nine petitioners.

Gas tragedy survivors and organisations representing the victims are dismayed. �The CBI is the prosecuting agency working on behalf of the Union of India. How can the CBI suddenly become the counsel for the accused?� said Abdul Jabbar, convener of the Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Udyog Sangathan.

�And how can charges be reduced against an accused who has never appeared before the court?�

Organisations of the survivors have decided to file a petition challenging the CBI application before the next hearing on July 17-18.


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