String of strikes rattles Subhas
CPM picks out McKinsey thorn from farm policy
Trinamul stumps CM with English vocabulary
State takes over medical project
Mace notice admitted
Rogue elephant felled
Underwater transit on fast track
Fish farm in Raj Bhavan ponds
Healing, in the nature of things
Shaky yesterday, most wanted today

Calcutta, June 25: 
A combined transport strike involving private buses and taxis could bring Calcutta and its neighbouring districts grinding to a halt beginning Wednesday midnight. The owners and operators of chartered vehicles will go on strike from July 1.

Three lobbies, the Bengal Taxi Association, the Bengal Bus Syndicate and the West Bengal Contract Carriage Owners and Operators� Association, today announced the decision to take their vehicles off the roads in support of their respective demands.

While the taximen decided to go on an indefinite strike from Wednesday midnight demanding an increase in fare, private bus owners will go on a two-day strike from Thursday to protest against the alleged atrocities by police and motor vehicle inspectors.

Taking a cue from them, school and chartered buses will not ply from July 1 to press for action against private cars ferrying students and office-goers.

Alarmed at the strike threats, transport minister Subhas Chakraborty placed a situation report at a Left Front committee meeting at Alimuddin Street on Monday. He said transport operators have been demanding a hike in fares in the wake of the countrywide increase in petrol and diesel prices.

�I have discussed the matter with transport operators and shall call on them once again to settle the issue,� Chakraborty is said to have told Left Front leaders.

Bimal Guha, general secretary of the Bengal Taxi Association, said they were left with no option but to go off the roads to put pressure on the government to increase the fare. �We have already explained to the government the reason for hiking the fare but nothing has been done so far. The indefinite strike is the last weapon left with us to put pressure on the administration,� he added.

Several requests to the transport department have fallen on deaf ears. �Now the government will have to bear the brunt if over 26,000 taxis go off the roads from Wednesday midnight causing inconvenience to people,� he added.

Ajit Kumar Saha, president of the Bengal Bus Syndicate, alleged that policemen were harassing bus operators and drivers in the name of checking their vehicles.

�The harassment has not stopped even after the government promised to look into the matter. So, we have planned a two-day token strike in Calcutta, Howrah and two 24-Parganas districts from June 27.�

He said bus operators had informed Chakraborty about the alleged �atrocities� when he had met at the Netaji Indoor Stadium early this month. �But despite the minister�s assurances, bus operators and drivers are being harassed on roads,� he alleged.

Himadri Ganguly, general secretary of the West Bengal Contract Carriage Owners� and Operators Association, said they would go on an indefinite strike from July 1 if the government does not act against private vehicles ferrying school children and office-goers �illegally.�

He complained that they were incurring heavy losses. �The proposed indefinite strike is aimed at pressuring the government to issue notices to private vehicle owners,� he added.


Calcutta, June 25: 
The CPM today pacified its minor partners like the Forward Bloc and the CPI, upset over the government�s proposed agriculture policy, stating that the government�s moves in the sector were not shaped by American consultant McKinsey.

�The agency had merely made some recommendations to the government but it is not bound to follow them,� said Left Front chairman Biman Bose said after a meeting of the coalition.

The crystallisation of the policy would not occur without considering the ideas that emerged from a recent workshop addressed by agriculture scientist M.S. Swaminathan, he added. Several organisations, including the farmers� wings of various Front partners, had attended the workshop and the government�s farm policy would be based on its findings, Bose said.

The Bloc and the CPI had openly disagreed with the CPM after chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee announced the proposed agriculture policy.

Agriculture minister Kamal Guha even promised an alternative � and a better � policy, but the Bloc reined him in.

Faced with protests, the government said it would not raise the issue in the Cabinet meeting slated for June 27. The chief minister himself announced the apparent climbdown on the issue.

The government�s decision not to force the issue followed a letter from the Bloc to Bhattacharjee and Bose, asking them to keep the matter out of the June 27 charter.

Asking the government and the front chairman not to take a decision in a hurry as it might boomerang � reports of discontent over the low price paddy price has been doing the rounds � the party insisted its suggestions be taken into consideration before a new policy was drafted.

The RSP, too, joined in with former PWD minister Kshiti Goswami saying that the interests of the poor and marginal farmers would be jeopardised if the government framed its policies in accordance with McKinsey�s recommendations.

With the apparent decision not to go ahead with McKinsey�s vision for the fields, the new policy�s opponents, too, lowered their voices some notches.

Guha today said in the Assembly there was no difference among the front partners over the proposed policy. �I have no differences with the government in this regard and we will discuss the issue threadbare before finalising the policy,� he said.


Calcutta, June 25: 
One of the Trinamul Congress� lesser-known affiliates, the Trinamul education cell, seems to have succeeded where its mother has failed: catching chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee off guard.

At a meeting with a Trinamul delegation at the Assembly last week � Bhattacharjee�s first since becoming chief minister � he admitted in jest that some letters he had received from the cell had stumped him.

Turning to Shobhandeb Chattopadhyay, Trinamul chief whip in the Assembly and a member of the delegation, the chief minister quipped that the letters � sent by Supriya Chattopadhyay, cell chairperson and also Shobhandeb�s better half � were written in an English that was proving difficult to comprehend.

Bhattacharjee � who had by that time succeeded in melting Trinamul with his �apparently sincere approach� � complained, with a smile, about the �big English words� Supriya had used, others present at the meeting said.

�We are very happy with the chief minister�s acknowledgement at a closed-door meeting and are hoping that he will look into the problems our letters mentioned,� a senior cell official said this evening. She, however, added that the cell was still in the dark about the government�s response.

Though happy with the chief minister�s �good-natured remarks�, cell members said the issues raised in the two letters are far less laughable.

The letters � sent to the secretariat on June 4 � deal with teachers� problems and highlight the way the community has been getting a rough deal from the �New Left�, said the cell members. Supriya had earlier unsuccessfully moved Calcutta High Court to act against the government�s tuition-ban notification as it was �humiliating and derogatory� to the teaching community.

The first letter draws Bhattacharjee�s attention to the problems teachers of state-run and state-sponsored schools are facing because of the decision to delay payment of salary to the end of the month instead of its beginning.

�The state government has started a slanderous and rancorous campaign against the teaching community on different issues with an ulterior motive,� the letter says, adding that the decision to delay payment had �lowered their social status and financial position�.

The other letter reminds Bhattacharjee of the higher education department�s apparently �illegal� act of continuing with the principal of the Kalyani Government Engineering College even after the West Bengal Administrative Tribunal�s strictures against his appointment.


Calcutta, June 25: 
Fed up with a private group�s inability to launch a new medical college in Paschim Midnapore, the government today took over a building beside the Midnapore district hospital and also the responsibility of starting the college.

The private group had expressed a desire in 2000 to set up the medical institute and even raised Rs 2 crore. But it failed to get the project underway in almost two years, prompting the government action.

Director of health services Prabhakar Chatterjee announced here that the government intends to start a 150-seat medical college and is in touch with the Medical Council of India and other agencies in this regard.

Director of medical education C.R. Maity today held discussions with officials of The Society for Advance Study (SAS) � the trust entrusted with opening the college � which then formally handed over the building and documents to government representatives. Maity, who was accompanied by other health department officials including joint secretary (health) Indrajeet Roy, asked SAS officials to look after the college property for the next 15 days. By then, the government would take over the reins of the building.

SAS chairman P. Baskay said the government initially wanted them to open the college, but �since they want to do it themselves, we have no objections�. The state government had donated Rs 1 crore to the organisation for the purpose.

It was learnt that SAS officials told the government that along with the building, they would also have to take care of the handful of persons they had employed. But the government team refused. �We only decided on taking over the college building during the meeting,� Maity said in the evening.

Asked to explain the government move, Maity said the state had planned to start a medical college in a joint venture with a private group. But the plan did not work out as it would require a lot of money. �We have now decided to set up the college ourselves,� Maity said.


Calcutta, June 25: 
Speaker Hasim Abdul Halim today admitted a notice given by some Left Front MLAs, condemning Trinamul Congress MLAs� attempt to snatch the mace yesterday.

RSP�s Tapan Hore, Forward Bloc MLA Subrata Bose, CPM�s Padmanidhi Dhar and Samar Hazra and DSP legislator Rampada Samanta moved the notice, which will be referred to the business advisory committee. The panel will finalise the date for discussion.

The notice mentioned that Trinamul MLAs Paresh Pal, Tapas Roy, Sonali Guha, Kalyan Banerjee, Arunabha Ghosh, Jyotipriya Mallik, Gobinda Naskar and Sougata Roy tried to walk away with the mace and assaulted the security staff who tried to stop them.

The Trinamul legislators raised a storm and walked out as the notice also accused them of violating the code of conduct set up in an all-party meeting held in Delhi on November 25 last year.


Siliguri, June 25: 
A wildlife squad led by a professional hunter tracked down the rogue elephant that killed 13 persons since last Sunday deep inside the Bamonpokri forest in Kurseong this afternoon and shot it.

But not before it claimed one more life. Even as the hunters chased it, it trampled to death Ratna Bahadur Viswakarma at Garidhura village about 30 km off Siliguri. It had wreaked havoc in villages on the India-Nepal border over the past few days.

�Amarjit Chauhan, a retired army major and professional hunter, shot the pachyderm. He was assisted by DFO wildlife I, DFO Kurseong and the wildlife squad,� J.T. Mathews, conservator of forest, wildlife circle (north), said. �We will try to find out the cause of its peculiar behaviour only after a scientific examination of the body. A post-mortem will be carried out,� Mathews added.

Police and forest department personnel had begun an operation to locate the elephant last evening after it attacked Chenga village near the border and trampled a couple. The exercise was put in high gear by pressing in four domestic elephants, acquired from Gorumara and Jaldapara forests.

But low visibility and the fast-moving quarry hampered the operation. �Initially the search operation was hamstrung as visibility inside the jungle was almost zero. In a situation like this, we also run the risk of targeting a different elephant. Distinguishing the rogue element from others becomes very difficult,� Mathews said.

The team had a close shave this morning when the angry elephant suddenly charged at the hunting party. �Before we could ascertain anything, the tusker disappeared into the forest,� a forest official said.

�Our triumph was a concerted effort by the forest department staff and the administration. But the retired major did it for us, finally,� Darjeeling district magistrate H. Mohan said, heaving a sigh of relief.

�After a careful examination of the destruction, we can deduce that the animal could be suffering from an irritation. Which is why, it is so ruthless to human beings. The irritation could be the result of a wound left behind by bullet injuries sustained across the border,� Mathews said. The Nepalese often shoot indiscriminately to stop elephants from entering the maize fields.

An ex gratia of Rs 30,000 will be paid to the next of kin of those killed by the elephant. A house building allowance will also be disbursed to villagers who bore the brunt of the attack, senior officials here said.


Calcutta, June 25: 
Buoyed by the findings of an internal report detailing the viability of the Esplanade-to-Howrah tram system, underground and underwater, the Calcutta Tramway Company (CTC) is ready to entrust RITES with the feasibility report for the project. The modalities for the report are currently being worked out between the tramway company and the technical consultants for the railways.

The CTC authorities have recently selected the plot on which they plan to construct the Howrah stop of the mega project. �The plot is about six bighas on East-West Road, close to Tikiapara station, not far away from Howrah Maidan,� said Sudhir De, chairman and managing director, CTC. �We will build a subway to connect Howrah Maidan with our proposed stop for the benefit of commuters,� added CTC chief engineer C.S. Bhattacharya.

Observers, however, anticipate some hurdles to the �highly-ambitious venture�. Debashish Bhattacharya, an activist fighting for the preservation of Calcutta trams, warns against an �over-emphasis� on the novel project. �It will help reduce the dominance of automobile-driven traffic, but the CTC should lay adequate emphasis on restoration of the existing system,� he says.

Pradip Das and Minoti De, who regularly commute between Esplanade and Howrah, feel the proposed ticket rates � of Rs 10 per ride � are �on the higher side�. But the CTC insists the prices have been fixed keeping in mind the projected value after four or five years, when the system should be in place. Officials also assure �smooth networking� with other forms of transport, as commuters will be able to access the tramcar from major transit junctions like Esplanade and Howrah. At Esplanade, an underground tunnel connecting the existing Metro and proposed tram stop has been planned, while at Howrah station, the stop will be close to the taxi stand.

Union members, however, are sceptical. �It is impossible to believe that an organisation that does not have funds for basic repairs to its tramcars, tracks and lines can execute such a project,� opined Paltu Das Gupta, senior Aituc leader.


Calcutta, June 25: 
After pruning the sprawling Raj Bhavan gardens, Governor Viren J. Shah seems interested in developing pisciculture at his official residence. Sources said that angling might be Shah�s latest pastime, in addition to playing golf on the Fort William grounds.

The gardening staff at Raj Bhavan had to work overtime last month to remove the weeds and hyacinth from the twin ponds, spread over 2.5 bighas. Moreover, special care is being taken to protect the banks from erosion. Flowerbeds have been laid on either side of the ponds. �The entire operation was carried out on His Excellency�s instructions,� said a senior Raj Bhavan official.

According to the official, the idea of pisciculture germinated in April 2002, when a man named Satyendranath Boral wrote to Shah from Nadia, seeking his permission to release some fingerlings in the Raj Bhavan ponds. In a letter, Boral said he has been setting free live fish in the Hooghly since 1980.

�Boral�s letter prompted us to think of pisciculture,� said the official. Shah, too, pondered over the matter but was unwilling to allow individuals to release fingerlings in the Raj Bhavan ponds. Finally, Shah�s secretary, Dilip Rath, wrote a letter on April 12 to principal secretary, fisheries department, Dibaditya Chakraborty, requesting him to release varieties of fish in the ponds for pisciculture.

�We will not allow private parties to release fingerlings in the ponds. Instead, we are approaching the state government for the job,� wrote Rath in his two-page letter.

Chakraborty told Metro on Tuesday that he had received Rath�s letter for developing pisciculture on the Raj Bhavan campus. �Experts have already examined the ponds and will release the fingerlings early next month,� he said.

Officials in the fisheries department said the Governor expressed his interest in pisciculture to state minister for fisheries, Kiranmoy Nanda, when he called on him some time ago.

According to them, the fisheries department will take care of cleaning the ponds on a regular basis, along with the Raj Bhavan employees. �Until and unless the ponds are cleaned, fishes cannot be reared there,� said an official.

Raj Bhavan officials said experts are being appointed on contract to catch fish at least twice a year. �We may sell some rare varieties in the market,� they said.

Shah has also invited the Bengal Rose Society to develop rose beds on the lawns. Rare roses will be planted, in addition to other flowers, to give the grounds the look of the Mughal Gardens of Rashtrapati Bhavan.


Calcutta, June 25: 
The name Bishalyakarani conjures up the picture of the super-ape Hanuman leaping through the clouds, holding aloft a hillock on which grew the medicinal herb that could revive Lakshman, injured while battling Ravana.

It was quite disappointing to discover that Bishalyakarani, which grew in abundance along the borders in the medicinal plant garden of the Ramakrishna Mission Ashrama in Narendrapur, looked little more impressive than the red spinach we have for lunch. It also came as a revelation that the herb, which acted like sal volatile when Lakshman was in a dead swoon, was not a mythical plant after all. It also could be grown quite easily.

The medicinal plant garden was laid out five years ago in an attempt to revive the system of using the curative properties of nature�s yield to treat patients, as was practised by Indian sages of yore. The garden was meant to develop awareness of their properties, and also to ensure that the right use is made of them. Plants which were on the verge of extinction could be grown and preserved there for the future.

The garden nurtures 215 species of these plants. They were collected from various sources after researching their traditional use in Jhargram. The plants and trees came from far-flung places like the mountains of Assam, Mongpu, Madhya Pradesh and Pune. Identifying them is an important factor, as few have either the knowledge or expertise to do so.

The Bidhan Chandra Krishi Vidyalaya, Kalyani University, Botanical Survey of India and the Ayurveda college at Rajabazar extended their help to set it up. The college holds demonstrations there. Traditional medicine men like the kabiraj, himself an endangered species, offered know-how.

It was like Paradise regained for them. The seven-and-a-half-bigha garden is fronted by neat beds. The larger trees, shrubs and creepers thrive in the rear half. Gravel paths in between allow access to the sections where the vegetation runs riot.

There is the Ghritkumari, with spiky tentacle-like leaves, the Sarpagandha, bearing tiny red and black berries, varieties of menthol, citronella, the catechu with lace-like leaves and equally delicate flowers, and baro elach in pods, which has the botanical name of amomum aromaticum Roxb. A species known as zingiberaceae curcuma caesia (locally called kalo halud) has the power to treat leprosy and worms as well. This is just a sampling of the myriad plants, trees, creepers and shrubs grown there.

In a cottage next to the garden, seedlings are grown. It has a collection of seeds and a dryer meant for use during the rains. These seedlings are used in new medicinal plant gardens being developed in the districts and also in Baleswar in Orissa.


New Delhi, June 25: 
When Sushma Swaraj went into the Union Cabinet meeting this morning, determined to have her way with the new policy on the print media, a bureaucrat in her ministry wondered if she was planning to leave her ministry in a blaze of glory.

Since Vajpayee had said a Cabinet reshuffle was due, there have been soft murmurs in Shastri Bhavan that the party wanted her back as it pulls up the organisation by the bootstraps.

Far from being in danger of losing her job, Sushma now finds that she is in great demand and also getting her way with what she wants.

The party wants her because she is one of its most articulate faces; the government wants her because when she is not ministering her portfolio, she is championing its cause in enemy territory � as she did in Pakistan, responding grittily in chaste Urdu in a televised interview � and Bollywood wants her, because she has taken its cause to heart, leading the film industry to Cannes and back.

In the bargain, Sushma has found it easier to have it her way. She has whittled down proposals to slash her ministry�s size; she has put information and broadcasting and films on the priority list of the Planning Commission and, today, she finally put paid to the 1955 Cabinet resolution that banned the entry of foreign publications. (That resolution, however, was interpreted in a way that even investment by foreign companies in Indian print media firms was disallowed by successive governments.)

In her office this afternoon, where she was settling down to a late lunch, telephone call after telephone call � mostly from media barons and editors � poured in to congratulate her. But Sushma was acutely aware that opposition to her move is also stiff.

�Isn�t 50 years enough time for circumstances to change?� she wondered aloud. �In 1955, there was no television, no Internet. Today, there is DTH, and so many channels. It�s not so simple to hijack the Indian media.�

Sushma and her officers toiled over the decision for months. Finally in May, she took a watered-down proposal to the Cabinet, allowing foreign investments only for scientific and technical journals. The Cabinet returned it and asked the ministry to take a comprehensive view.

�We knew almost instantly that the Cabinet was, by and large, positively disposed towards allowing FDI. It was necessary to package it and present it well so that the idea that Indian control was not being surrendered went down well.

�But even then there was some doubts on whether there might not be opposition from within the NDA,� said an officer of the ministry.

After the Swadeshi Jagran Manch last week said it was not in favour of FDI in the print media, the possibility that the move might still be scuttled rose again. But Sushma says it is not true that the Sangh parivar was against it.

�There are people belonging to the parivar who are in the Union Cabinet also. All decisions taken by the Cabinet are unanimous,� she points out.

Industry reaction

Industry has sent out a mixed reaction to the government�s decision to allow 26 per cent foreign direct investment in the print media.

�Although the step is in tune with the disinvestment and reforms process of the government, a cautious approach needs to be adopted so that the floodgates are not opened, thereby damaging the political, cultural and intellectual life of the country,� said Arun Kapur, president, Punjab, Haryana and Delhi Chambers of Commerce and Industries.

The Confederation of Indian Industry felt it was a bold and significant step. �The decision would enable print publications to access funds, especially from financial institutions that had foreign equity, which they were earlier not able to access,� an official release from the confederation said.

The chamber believes the decision will introduce an element of competition and provide a means for publishers to improve the quality of publications by enabling easier access of funds for this sector.

It also complimented the government on the well-crafted safeguards, relating to editorial and management control, to ensure that the print media remained in Indian hands, which is in conformity with the 1955 Cabinet resolution.

However, Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industries representatives declined to give any statement on the issue.

�At the moment, we want to steer clear of the controversial issue,� the federation said


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