Girls conquer HS heights
State vs state in Mamata bargain
Astrologer rules before Atal
Goa’s tale: told by a Brazilian, captured by a Calcuttan
On terror terrain, marriages too take a backseat
Atal slams brake on Modi rath
Delhi cool to Hurriyat visitor
Yashwant kickoff with Hoon
Fresh blood pumped into Punjab courts
Calcutta Weather

Calcutta, July 2: 
A student from North Bengal scored the highest-ever marks in the history of higher secondary examinations and, for the first time, the top two positions were annexed by girls.

Pramita Mitra of Balurghat Girls’ High School in South Dinajpur notched a record 975 marks out of 1000 and a fellow North Bengal student, Parama Dutta of Siliguri Girls’ High School, totted up 966 in the 2002 examination, smashing boys’ dominance of the merit list.

The results of the examination — taken by approximately 370,000 students — also signalled the remarkable rise of district schools, with 20 students among the Top 20, and a corresponding decline of Calcutta institutions, with only five.

Jyotirmoy Mukherjee, president of the West Bengal Higher Education Council, said the ascent of girl power was one of the distinguishing features this year. “Never before have two girls occupied the first two positions in any school-leaving exam, be it HS or Madhyamik,” he said.

Eighteen years ago, Roshni Sen of South Point High School became the first girl to win the first position. In tune with the trend prevailing then, the list had been monopolised by Calcutta’s English medium schools, which this year had only three students on the merit list.

In the past three HS exams (2001-1999), Ayan Pal of Howrah Zilla School secured the first spot with 955 marks, Sayak Ray of Hindu School with 970 and Ayanava Majumdar of St Lawrence with 964.

But this time boys were only third best with Abhik Ranjan Bhattacharya of Ramakrishna Mission Residential College, Narendrapur, securing 956 marks.

Pramita, the daughter of a college teacher, had come fourth in the Madhyamik examination two years ago. “I knew from the start I would be among the top five, but the result was still a bit of a surprise,” she said.

Parama, whose father is an engineer, said: “It was my teachers who brought about the change that differentiates you from the herd.”

As North Bengal shone in the glory of the two Ps, reality came crashing down on Calcutta schools, especially the English medium ones. Five students from Calcutta schools occupied four middle-to-bottom positions.

District schools, which had been lagging behind Calcutta’s better-known institutions in the HS exam even after monopolising the Madhyamik merit list over the past few years, have broken the barrier.

The day had its lows, too. A 20-year-old girl, who failed the exam, committed suicide at Nabadwip.


New Delhi, July 2: 
Atal Bihari Vajpayee appears to have a tough job on hand in persuading Mamata Banerjee to join his Cabinet. The Trinamul Congress leader has linked her return to resolving the Bengal-Bihar row over Eastern Railway’s proposed bifurcation, which will result in the creation of a new zone to be headquartered in Bihar.

Mamata told George Fernandes that her face-off with railway minister Nitish Kumar was slowly acquiring the dimension of an inter-state dispute. “You are trying to create an inter-state dispute like Narmada,” she told the NDA convener, who is likely to resume talks with her tomorrow. Mamata was to have left for Calcutta today but has been told to remain in Delhi till Friday.

With Mamata insisting on some face-saver on the bifurcation, Vajpayee’s aides have suggested that she could accept a berth other than railway and raise the issue in Cabinet meetings and/or a parliamentary committee could be set up to make recommendations.

Sources said apart from coal and mines she was offered yesterday, Mamata has been told that the shipping and surface transport ministries could be clubbed together again and given to her. Although a section of BJP leaders had opposed taking Mamata back into the ministry, Fernandes argued that if she remained out of power for long, her party would disintegrate to the Congress’ benefit.

Trinamul is silent on what strategy it would adopt. On the eve of the shuffle, Mamata wrote to Vajpayee asking him to scrap Kumar’s “partisan” move. Trinamul spokesperson Dinesh Trivedi was closeted with Fernandes and the Prime Minister’s aide, Sudheendra Kulkarni, till the wee hours of today discussing how to withdraw the railway ministry notification on the bifurcation.

“A Cabinet berth is not as important for us as Bengal’s interests,” said a Trinamul source. He said his party wants Vajpayee to give a written assurance that the notification will be withdrawn. There is no point joining the government “if we cannot protect the interests of our state”, the source added.

But any move to withdraw the notification will make Kumar’s position in Bihar untenable. His rivals will paint him as a power-hungry politician who sold Bihar’s interests for personal gain. “Nitish and Mamata have got trapped,” said a source.

Sources also said the issue of taking back rebel Trinamul leader and former Union minister Ajit Panja into the ministry was no longer a matter of contention.


New Delhi, July 2: 
Bad enough it was a Tuesday. Then Jupiter chose this moment to make one of his routine residential changes. Could anything be more “inauspicious” to make a new beginning?

Possibly not. At least, that is what several Cabinet ministers thought, too.

So Yashwant Sinha and Jaswant Singh and even first-timers like K. Jana Krishnamurthi stayed away from office today.

Agnostics would rail at such superstition in the corridors of power, but for those who believe in astrology, today was an “inauspicious” day according to both the Tamil and Sanskrit almanacs.

Moreover, according to the Hindu calendar, Jupiter had begun shifting houses — Guru Peyarchi — from June 30. He does that periodically across the 12 signs of the zodiac, but how do you reconcile to the fact that he started just the day before Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee shuffled his ministry?

It didn’t stop there. Rahu also joined in the cosmic interference.

Law ministry sources said Krishnamurthi, who was eased out as BJP chief but given the crucial portfolio, told them to “ready” his office tomorrow by 11.30 am so that he could enter the room after the Rahu Kaalam is over. The astrological phenomenon lasts one-and-a-half-hours every day and the timing varies between 7.30 in the morning and 4.30 in the evening. The period is considered “bad” and generally people from southern India do not begin any new venture during this time. “Tomorrow, Rahu Kaalam gets over before 11.30 am and Janaji (as Krishnamurthi is called in BJP circles) is slated to assume office by that time,” a source said.

Jaswant also did not formally assume his new office as finance minister.

But that did not stop him from holding informal meetings with ministry officials and the governor of the Reserve Bank. As to whom Sinha met informally is not known.

Although sources say it is surprising that Vajpayee chose to shuffle his council when Jupiter is shifting houses, some almanac readers are of the opinion that a beginning in the time of Guru Peyarchi is auspicious. “The only thing is that the tithi (day) and the nakshatra (star of the day) should be scrutinised to start a new venture or assume new office,” one reader said.

According to him, exercises like a Cabinet shuffle can be carried out during Jupiter’s cosmic travel, but an auspicious day should be chosen.

So Monday, he said, was not a bad day for the shuffle but Tuesday was certainly inauspicious, which made some of the ministers stay away.

There were, however, some brave souls too. Digvijay Singh, minister of state for external affairs and Vijay Goel, minister of state for programme implementation and statistics, joined work today. The rest of the new ministers are slated to assume office from Wednesday — after Rahu Kaalam, that is.


Panaji, July 2: 
The Portuguese influence on Goan culture is to be captured on screen.

Sharing the frame with two other cities from the other side of the globe — Lisbon in Portugal and the Brazilian capital of Rio de Janeiro — Goa will be the centre of a project by Calcutta-based film-maker Indranil Chakravarty featuring Bollywood actress Tabu as one of the protagonists.

“It is the story of a Brazilian man who discovers rather late in his life that he has a family in Goa,” says Chakravarty. “It is also the story of a family over three generations, a family which breaks up in the year of the Liberation (as the end of Portuguese rule in 1961 is termed) and comes together, accidentally, 40 years later through one man’s journey of self-discovery.”

In 1961, Goa gained freedom from Portuguese rule after 451 years and in 1987 it became the 25th and smallest state of India.

Now, Chakravarty spins a tale linking the three continents, as he points out that “there are real historical links between these places. I am not making an arbitrary connection. I couldn’t have worked on the same kind of story with Calcutta”.

“Goa attracts me for the rich hub of history that it is,” says the film-maker. “The research part is now almost over and I am trying to finish the script. We start shooting the film in September 2003, beginning with Goa. The film should be ready for release by March 2004.”

Among the actors, Bollywood star Tabu will play the female lead while Sonia Braga, the “Brazilian bombshell” from Hollywood, will portray the other major female character. The music track — six songs in all — will be composed by Goa’s famous pop star Remo Fernandes with renowned Portuguese singer Sergio Godinho composing and singing one number, he said.

The film-maker studied direction for four years at the Escuela Internacional de Cine, the renowned film institute in Havana, Cuba, whose founder and chairman is Nobel Prize winner Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

Chakravarty says: “It has been fascinating for me to work on a story that connects India with that part of the world… As I became increasingly possessed by the story, I was driven by an urge to understand Goan history. It has taken me more than two years to work out the details.”

A member of the faculty of film direction at the Satyajit Ray Film Institute in Calcutta, Chakravarty has made two short fiction films in Spanish and several documentaries and educational programmes in India. The Tamarind Tree is his first full-length feature film.

For the past several months he has been working on the script of his new film, building up the crew and hunting for finance. “I have just returned from Lisbon where I found a very enthusiastic Portuguese producer who is pursuing a Brazilian partner. So now, I only need to find an Indian co-producer,” he said.

To put the film together, Chakravarty anticipates that funding will have to come from “20 or more different sources”.

“This is not meant to be a Bollywood blockbuster but the problem is that the very nature of the project demands a budget much bigger than the usual offbeat films,” he said.

Speaking of his recent encounter with legendary European producer Paulo Branco in Lisbon, Chakravarty revealed: “He said that he liked the story very much and would like to do something about it.”


Srinagar, July 2: 
Thirteen years after the doves deserted the Paradise on Earth, the graveyards have overtaken the gardens, the economy has crumbled and anybody with a dream to live out has followed them.

For those left behind, life has been a struggle, even to find a life partner. A spin-off of the unabated militancy and its associated evils has been the phenomenon of late marriages and a cascading negative effect. The “marriage market” has acquired certain features that go against the prospects of both genders, particularly the women.

“The ‘market’ especially for girls is down. Usually, school teachers found it hard to get matches, but now parents prefer to marry off their daughters to anybody who is an earning hand,” said marriage broker Abdul Ahad.

Ahad has a long list of girls, who have been waiting for a match for many years. His major problem is that boys want working women so that they can support the family in trying times. Most of the girls on his list are highly educated, but they are working in private schools for meagre salaries.

Interestingly, most men want to marry government school teachers who have a good salary and can also take care of children. But there are not enough to meet the demand.

In Kashmir, girls generally got married in their early 20s, but now, many remain unmarried simply because there are not enough boys left to marry them.

Enumerating the causes, renowned sociologist and head of the sociology department in the University of Kashmir, Professor Bashir Ahmad Dabla, said the number of eligible boys has considerably dropped due to the turmoil. Hundreds have got killed, debilitated, arrested or permanently displaced. Another important reason, according to Dabla, is change in the preference and attitude of the educated class towards unemployment, caste and status.

Another scholar of the department, Shabir Ahmad, said higher education and the subsequent long wait for jobs made early marriages difficult. In case of professionals, often the choice is restricted to those in a related field, which prolongs a search.

“It is ironical that instead of a relieving factor, education becomes a positive hindrance to marriage. There is an inverse relationship between education and timely marriages,” he said.

Indeed, some highly educated girls holding prestigious government posts are finding it difficult to find a suitable match. Some of them have even crossed 35.

Others believe that the economic factor outweighs all other considerations. “It is a marriage of jobs and salaries and marriages as an institution has begun fraying in the process. Even love marriages are a meticulously calculated and planned affair,” said Javed Ahmad, a prospective groom.

The prolonged turmoil has opened up the rich-poor divide in the Valley. Most parents have no money to marry off their daughters. Even working men often balk at the prospect of marriage. Qaisar Aijaz, 35, recently appointed a college teacher, is flooded with marriage proposals. But he says: “Earlier, no marriage broker was interested in me and now they come with a lot of proposals. I just avoid them as I have no money.”

As more and more marriages get pushed back, the impact is being felt by the next generation. Dr Muhammad Asharaf of the Social and Preventive Medicine College said there has been an increase in congenital disorders, particularly Down’s Syndrome or the Mongol Idiocy, in children born in recent years.

Quratul Ain at Srinagar’s Lalded Maternity Hospital echoed him and blamed the surge on late marriages. There was also an increase in recurrent abortions, gynaecological complications and increased predisposition to infertility, she added.

Referring to a study — Multi Dimensional Problems of Women in Kashmir — sponsored by the Planning Commission, Professor Dabla said it has revealed that late marriages affect the general health of couples and their children. It has also pointed at the 13-year-old turmoil as one of the major reasons behind the phenomenon.

“Late marriages affect the entire way of life. Early marriages help couples to establish a good lifestyle and plan a family. Couples married late are not able to develop good careers for their children,” he said.

The clergy blamed the late marriages on “moral anarchy and high incidence of pre-marital sex” brought about by the invasion of cable television and breakdown of various socio-religious institutions. When nikaah (marriage) has become enormously costly, the youths seek pleasure in “cheaper alternatives”, they said. Sociologists agreed that late marriages might encourage pre-marital and extra-marital sexual affairs in Kashmir — an uncommon phenomenon — and this might precipitate a surge in cases of AIDS.

The problem is dawning on the denizens of Kashmir. “After observing and experiencing the subtle trauma of late marriages, my friend and I have decided to marry our daughters off at 18,” said Shameema, 34, who got married recently.


Ahmedabad, July 2: 
Chief minister Narendra Modi’s much hyped-rath (chariot) will not roll in the communally charged Gujarat.

Bowing to pressure from the Prime Minister’s Office, Modi today announced the indefinite postponement of his Gaurav Yatra, two days before it was to be flagged off by deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani.

The “official reason’’ cited was the concern expressed by the National Human Rights Commission. The march could re-ignite communal passion in the riot-hit state, the commission had said. But a BJP insider said the PMO and the party high command asked Modi to cancel his yatra.

In Delhi, Atal Bihari Vajpayee took up the issue with Advani after a meeting with scholars and NGO representatives. The deputy Prime Minister then asked Modi to call off the yatra.

The PMO had received intelligence reports that the Gaurav Yatra, which was scheduled to pass through many sensitive areas, could spark large-scale violence. A worried PMO had no option but to dissuade Modi from going ahead with the march. Any possibility of potentially provocative speeches in sensitive areas had to be quashed.

A grudging Modi had no option but to accept the decision.

The cancel-yatra directive is being interpreted as a slap in the face of the chief minister, who had been projecting himself as above the party.

Besides adding fuel to the undercurrent of tension in the state, Modi’s march would have provided ammunition to the Opposition. The Left parties, the Congress and Ram Vilas Paswan’s Lok Jan Shakti Party had been demanding a ban on it. Lok Jan Shakti had even mulled moving court seeking the ban.

State Congress president Amarsinh Chaudhary, who had decided to undertake a yatra to counter Modi’s, welcomed “the good decision’’. The Congress had demanded that the yatra be stopped, he said. “Our national president has already written to the Prime Minister urging him to direct Modi not to go ahead.”

Asked what exactly prompted the party to cancel the yatra, BJP state president Rajendra Sinh Rana said following the rights panel’s remarks, “we decided to postpone” it. “I spoke to Modi in the afternoon and both of us agreed.”

Rana said the BJP had nothing to do with the Jagannath Rath Yatra — a 125-year-old religious procession to be taken out in the city on July 12.

It will go ahead according to schedule.

Though the BJP claimed that it “respects” the rights panel, it did not spare it for having taken a “political view’’. “Had the commission asked us about our programme, we would have gladly forwarded it,” a BJP leader said.

The party insisted that the yatra was being planned to create harmony, not to stoke the embers.

Taking a potshot at the Congress for demanding a ban on the yatra despite “perfect normality in the state’’, the BJP reminded Sonia Gandhi of the recent panchayat elections. Not a “single incident of violence” was reported during the polls in which 17,000 villages took part and had an overall turn out of 75 per cent, the party claimed.

Sonia herself has addressed four rallies in the state since the Godhra carnage. All the meetings passed off peacefully, a BJP leader said.

“So why does the Congress think there will be disturbance if the yatra is not stopped?” the state BJP spokesman asked.


New Delhi July 2: 
Abdul Gani Bhat, chairman of the All Parties Hurriyat Conference, is in the capital but the government is in no mood to woo him or give the alliance much importance.

The Centre thinks Hurriyat leaders are gradually losing their relevance in Kashmir and is unwilling to help raise the combine’s profile by engaging them in talks.

Although nobody in the government wants to admit it, there is a growing realisation in Delhi that the Hurriyat will not participate in the Jammu and Kashmir polls, mainly because they are aware of the looming threat from militant groups which have already warned them not to.

Since the assassination of moderate leader Abdul Gani Lone, the Hurriyat leadership is in the grip of fear and few will dare to defy the militants.

The Hurriyat has raised the hackles of the government by trying to bring Islamabad into the picture and suggesting triangular talks on Kashmir. The Centre has ruled out involving Islamabad in any talks with the Hurriyat.

“If the Hurriyat wants to talk to us we are willing, but at the moment our focus is on the Kashmir elections. If they want to discuss the polls and wish to participate in elections, we are more than willing to accommodate them,” a senior government official said.

“Other issues, including autonomy, can be negotiated only with the representatives of the people after the polls,” the official added.

However, if Bhat wants to call on any minister or official of the Vajpayee government in Delhi, he will be given a courteous welcome, he said.

The government feels that the Hurriyat’s decision to ask militants to announce a ceasefire is again an attempt to make itself relevant. Syed Salahuddin, the Pakistan-based leader of the Hizb-ul Mujahideen, has already ruled out a ceasefire in Kashmir.

The Vajpayee government’s focus is on holding credible elections in Kashmir. “Gradually, the pieces are falling in place in Kashmir and though we can’t say for certain that every piece will fit in to place, we are much more optimistic than we were a few months ago,” a senior official explained.

Sajjad Lone’s statement yesterday, claiming he is the inheritor of his father’s moderate politics, is music to the Centre’s ears. However, officials say it is too early to take him at his word.

“We have to wait and watch. He may change his views tomorrow,” said an official associated with the Prime Minister’s Kashmir policy.

Delhi clearly recalls the family’s initial statement immediately after Lone was killed. His son had pointed an accusing finger at Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence. However, he took back his statement the next day and blamed chief minister Farooq Abdullah and his elite police force.

Lone’s death had been a blow to both the Centre and the forces of moderation in Kashmir. If his son, Sajjad, decides to take on his father’s mantle, Delhi will be happy to oblige him.

Poll stand pressure

The United Jihad Council, an amalgam of various militant groups active in Kashmir, has asked the Hurriyat to make clear its stand on the polls or quit the “separatist conglomerate”, adds our correspondent in Srinagar.

The Muzaffarabad-based council, headed by Salahuddin, appealed to the people of Kashmir to boycott the elections and not allow anyone “to play with their interests”.

In a statement issued here this evening, the council said: “The Hurriyat should immediately announce its stand on the polls and mount an anti-election campaign in Kashmir. The ongoing struggle is not for transfer of power or restoration of autonomy but achieving freedom for which Kashmiris have made huge sacrifices. If the Hurriyat leaders continue to adopt an unclear policy over the issue of October elections, they should quit the separatist conglomerate.”


New Delhi, July 2: 
British defence secretary Geoff Hoon will arrive here tomorrow to hold wide-ranging discussions with the Indian leadership on developments in the region, particularly ways and means to end the military stand-off between India and Pakistan and the pledge by President Pervez Musharraf to permanently end infiltration across the Line of Control.

Hoon arrives in New Delhi from Islamabad where he held detailed discussions with Musharraf and other senior members of the Pakistani government on the current situation in South Asia and the possible ways to de-escalate tension between the two nuclear neighbours.

The British defence secretary will be the first visitor from abroad with whom the new foreign minister, Yashwant Sinha, will discuss the current state of India-Pakistan relations when they meet on Thursday.

Sinha will formally take charge of the ministry here tomorrow afternoon. His deputy, Digvijay Singh, the minister of state for foreign affairs, however, took over today, hours after Jaswant Singh was given a formal farewell in the forecourt of South Block this afternoon by members of the Indian Foreign Service.

Hoon’s main host here will be his Indian counterpart, George Fernandes. The two leaders are scheduled to hold talks on developments in the region, particularly on the situation along the Indo-Pakistan borders where troops of the two countries are deployed in an eyeball-to-eyeball confrontation.

Fernandes will host a dinner in honour of his British guest, where discussions on the situation in South Asia will continue.

Hoon on the following day will meet Sinha, the national security advisor, Brajesh Mishra, the new foreign secretary, Kanwal Sibal, and other senior officials of the foreign ministry. He will leave for London later in the day.

The British defence secretary visited Afghanistan before arriving in Islamabad yesterday. His discussions with the Indian leadership will also focus on developments in Kabul, particularly the Loya Jirga and the transitional administration that will help maintain peace and stability in the country. But the main thrust of his discussions will be the current military standoff between New Delhi and Islamabad.

Over the past few weeks, the temperature in South Asia has stabilised. This has happened after Musharraf’s pledged to take serious steps to permanently check infiltration across the Line of Control. The Indian leadership responded by lifting the ban on overflight facilities for Pakistani aircraft and recalling its warships to base.

However, these were small and cautious steps. India has made it clear it will not go for any major de-escalation, either at the diplomatic or military levels, unless it is convinced that Musharraf’s words are matched by his actions.

The visit by the British defence secretary, who arrives here after senior American leaders, Donald Rumsfeld and Richard Armitage’s visit to the region, is aimed at further lowering the temperature in South Asia.

Hoon will try and apprise the Indian leadership on Musharraf’s progress against the terrorists. Though he will possibly reiterate the Tony Blair government’s position on fighting international terrorism and, thereby, support the stand taken by New Delhi, Hoon may also try to find out whether India was thinking of taking some more steps towards de-escalation.


Chandigarh, July 2: 
Punjab and Haryana High Court chief justice Arun B. Saharya today declined comment on the decision to withdraw work from three judges whose names reportedly figured in the statements of suspended Punjab Public Service Commission chairman Ravi Inder Paul Singh Sidhu’s aides in the job-for-cash scam.

“This is a solemn occasion. Let us have some tea,” Justice Saharya said when asked to comment on the decision immediately after swearing in seven new judges to the high court.

The new judges are Vinay Mittal, Virender Singh, Satish Kumar Mittal, Hemant Gupta, Surinder Singh Saron, Kiran Anand Lall and Surinder Grewal. With the induction of the new judges, the strength of judges in the high court has gone up to 33, still short of the number required.

The high court is conducting a separate inquiry into the alleged involvement of Justices A.S. Gill, M.L. Singhal and Mehtab Singh Gill in the recruitment scam. Work from all three has been withdrawn from July 1. They have been accused of using their influence to get their wards selected in various posts of the state civil services.

A.S. Gill, M.L. Singhal and Mehtab Singh Gill have stopped attending the high court since yesterday. The high court probe suffered a setback last week when additional director-general of police (intelligence) A.P. Bhatnagar was unceremoniously removed along with intelligence chief Sumedh Singh Saini by chief minister Amarinder Singh on charges of leaking investigation reports. Justice Saharya had asked Bhatnagar to assist him in the court inquiry.

Bhatnagar and Saini are credited with busting the scam and handing over the case to the vigilance bureau for prosecution. It was on the basis of Bhatnagar’s report to the chief justice that work was withdrawn from the judges.

The Punjab government’s anti-corruption drive took yet another turn with Amarinder hinting at setting up fast-track courts to ensure that the guilty are punished immediately.

Government sources said the decision to set up fast-track courts follows the granting of bail to most of the accused in the case. Sidhu and his “conduits” have secured bail following the vigilance bureau’s failure to file chargesheets within the 90-day period. Sidhu, however, is still in jail in another case of misappropriation of secret PPSC funds.

The Punjab government’s efforts to root out corruption had also suffered a blow when retired Justice A.S. Garg, the one-man panel appointed for notification of the inquiry, had failed to name a judge to head the panel.

Garg, who was appointed to screen complaints of corruption during the Shiromani Akali Dal-BJP regime and recommend cases for probe, resigned after questions were raised on his integrity.




Maximum: 28.6°C (-4)
Minimum:25°C (-1)


134.7 mm (till 8.30 pm)

Relative Humidity

Maximum: 98%,
Minimum: 66%


Sunrise: 4.59 am
Sunset: 6.22 pm
A few spells of rain, with one or two heavy showers or thundershowers

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