Hills beat plains in education march
Worry over dry spell
Paddy scam slur on govt
In the name of order, cops replace students
Dasgupta stamp on Singh panel
Poll panel team heads for Gujarat
Sonia picks two more spokesmen
Vaghela vs Modi in politics of hate
Delhi drive to control Powell damage
Race for rights brings cricket feast on cable TV

Siliguri, July 29: 
A report compiled by a government agency shows the Darjeeling hills marching ahead of the plains in education, breaking the common notion that the hills are always behind Siliguri.

The report, published in April by the Paschim Banga Rajya Prarambik Siksha Unnayan Sanstha, states that the literacy rate in the hills is 72.87 per cent while that of Siliguri is 67.72 per cent. The Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council (DGHC) area, which has a population of some eight lakh against Siliguri’s more than 10 lakh, also has more education institutes than the plains. While there are 401 primary and 77 upper primary schools in Siliguri, the hills boast of 775 primary and 121 upper primary schools, almost twice the number.

“A spurt in immigration into Siliguri is a major deterrent to quality education here,” said Kajol Bandhapadhyay, deputy project director of the district rural development cell, Siliguri Mahakuma Parishad. “Because of this, it becomes difficult to match the infrastructure of schools with the growing number of students.”

The report states that the hills not only have an edge over Siliguri on the number of teachers but also on their qualification. The total number of primary and upper primary teachers in the three hill sub-divisions is 3,513 while for Siliguri, the only sub-division in the plains, the count falls to 2,253. However, in the case of upper primary teachers, Siliguri has 147 teachers more than the 832 of the autonomous council.

According to the report, the hills had 125 untrained teachers while Siliguri had 1,015.

District school inspector R.K. Ghosh and sabhadhipati of Siliguri Mahakuma Parishad Anil Saha have attributed the wide disparity in the number of trained teachers between the hills and the plains to the absence of basic training institutes for teachers. The DGHC has two training centres, one at Darjeeling and the other at Kalimpong.

Saha has disagreed with several facts in the report, claiming: “Some points are agreeable but some are grossly wrong.”

He denied there were 20 building-less primary schools in Siliguri, insisting: “The figure is not at all correct. At the moment, there is only one school that has been badly damaged due to heavy rains. This apart, all the schools have buildings even though they are small.” The hills have 15 such schools.

He also expressed reservations about the number of one-teacher and two-teacher schools, which, according to the report, was 10 and 68 in Sililguri while in DGHC, the figure was zero.


Calcutta, July 29: 
Acting chief minister Mohammad Amin today said the administration was concerned about the absence of rains in south Bengal, especially in Purulia, Bankura and Paschim Midnapore districts.

The district magistrate of Purulia has called an emergency meeting of the district crisis management board that includes officials of the zilla parishad as well as departments of agriculture and irrigation.

The state agriculture department has decided to send a daily situation report to Delhi.

Agriculture department officials were alarmed following forecast of little or no rain in south Bengal till August 4 by Central meteorological agencies.

However, the regional meteorological centre at Alipore today said the low-pressure trough line over North Bengal causing heavy rains there had shifted to the south and widespread rains could be expected in the districts in the next 48 hours.

“The trough line is now passing through Gangetic West Bengal, Bihar, north Orissa, north-west Bay and east-central Bay with upper-air circulation over coastal areas of Orissa and Bengal. So we expect fairly widespread rains with isolated heavy rains in south Bengal in the next two days,” said R.N. Goldar, deputy director general, meteorology, Alipore.

The agriculture department at Writers’ Buildings is anxiously waiting for rains.

“We need a depression in the Bay of Bengal and incessant and widespread heavy rains to save our aman crop. Transplantation of aman crop has been severely affected. In Purulia, there has been only 5 per cent transplantation against the normal 36 per cent,” said N. Trivedi, state agriculture director.


Calcutta, July 29: 
The state Congress today accused the ruling Left Front of swindling government money meant for purchasing paddy from poor and marginal farmers.

The party threatened to organise protests if the government did not take measures against those involved in the “paddy-purchase scam”.

“Tara Mahato, the CPM anchal pradhan of Chubka in Jhargram sub-division, resigned on July 23 after she failed to prevent rice mill-owners, local CPM leaders and government officials from misappropriating state funds in the name of purchasing paddy from poor and marginal farmers,” Congress general secretary Manas Bhunia alleged.

“Mahato protested against the racket. She stated in her resignation letter that the owner of a local rice mill, some CPM leaders and a section of government officials forced her to sign a blank contract paper to justify the purchase of paddy from poor farmers.”

“Mahato submitted her resignation to the sub-divisional officer of Jhargram on July 24. We have been constantly alerting the government about the malpractice but it is sitting idle on our complaints,” Bhunia said.

He added that a team of Congress MLAs, including Somen Mitra, is slated to visit Jhargram on August 3 and organise a movement.

State party president Pranab Mukherjee will hold a padayatra across Midnapore district from August 16 to 22 to highlight the CPM government’s corruption in the agriculture sector, Bhunia said.


Baitara (Birbhum), July 29: 
Drenched by the rain, burnt by the sun, the students of a local primary school have endured it all for the past two years.

Not that the school building is unsafe. But the children had to pay for the political violence in the district by giving way to a police camp.

Baitara is the neighbouring village of Nanoor and Suchpur that witnessed the massacre of 13 Trinamul Congress supporters at the hands of alleged CPM attackers two years ago.

Following the tension, the government had directed the setting up of police camps in the troubled area. Similar police camps have been set up in the primary schools of Harmu, Nabastha and Rohinipur villages, elbowing out teachers and students.

For the past two years at Baitara, five teachers and 255 students have had to take innumerable breaks during rains and severe hot spells. “Classes I and II have been especially affected as their rooms have been occupied by the police,” said Samir Das, one of the teachers.

“A couple of days ago, one of my colleagues went down with heat stroke while teaching her class outdoors,” Das said. He added that the children also often fell ill because of long hours spent in the sun.

On July 6, the teachers submitted a resolution to the district inspector of schools, seeking a change in school timing to early morning. Since then, the classes are being held from 6 to 11 am.

However, the teachers’ plea to remove the police camp has fallen on deaf ears. “It was way back in August 2000 that we approached the inspector, asking for a solution to our problem,” Das said.

The teachers also met the district magistrate and the superintendent of police. “They both pleaded helplessness, saying the camps were necessary to preserve law and order in the area,” a teacher said.

The sorry state of affairs has also forced an unscheduled “monsoon vacation” till August 15. “We do not know if we will be able to resume classes if the rains continue,” Das said.

Last monsoon, the Noanagar panchayat had built a shade outside the school verandah. However, the relief was short-lived as the structure came crashing down in a storm this May.

But the four policemen continue to loll in the school. “We still hear the sound of bursting bombs sometimes at night and that is why we have to here all the time,” one of the constables said.


Calcutta, July 29: 
State finance minister Asim Dasgupta today approved the Centre’s move to set up a high-powered committee led by Jaswant Singh on recession hit-states.

“The new Union finance minister has accepted all the suggestions we made on July 23 on finding ways to lessen the recession in the states,” Dasgupta said at Writers’ Buildings.

Dasgupta, who is the chairman of the empowered committee of state finance ministers, said Singh even agreed to be the chairman of the committee, which was formally notified by the finance ministry last Friday.

“This is a recognition of the points that the states have been raising ever since the fifth Central pay commission enhanced the salaries of Central government employees,” he said.

“The committee, which is expected to meet in the first week of August, will recommend ways to reduce the debt burden of states by looking into the discrepancies of interests charged by the Centre to the states,” the state finance minister added.

He claimed that the main reason behind the recession was the Centre’s policies.


New Delhi, July 29: 
A nine-member team of the Election Commission, including deputy commissioners A.N. Jha and S.K. Mendiratta, is leaving for Gujarat tomorrow to assess whether the state is ready for polls.

“They will start their work from Wednesday. After touring Ahmedabad, the team will visit other districts to assess how far normality has returned to the state, recuperating from prolonged violence,” an official said. The team will stay in Gujarat as long as it is required.

“The commission will review the existing situation and then decide on the poll schedule,” the official added.

Another delegation of non-Congress Opposition MPs met the Election Commission today and pleaded against early polls. The delegation included former Prime Minister Chandra Shekhar, senior CPM MP Somnath Chatterjee, former Lok Sabha Speaker P.A. Sangma, Samajwadi Party MP Amar Singh and Rashtriya Janata Dal MP Raghuvansh Prasad Singh.

In a three-page memorandum, the delegation accused the BJP of trying to bully the commission into ordering early elections in a state, which they said, was far from normal.

“We told the commission they should decide the date of elections only after their team assessed the situation on the ground,” said Chatterjee.

“We pointed out that sporadic incidents of violence are still occurring in Gujarat. Voters have lost their identity cards — they have no document verifying their identity,” he added.

It is clear that the commission is not in a hurry to hold the polls, especially after a cross-section of people have repeatedly pointed out that the situation in Gujarat is not conducive for “free and fair polls”.

Teesta Setalvad, co-editor of Communalism Combat who has been closely monitoring the situation in Gujarat, has written to chief election commissioner J.M. Lyngdoh, detailing instances of the Narendra Modi government’s refusal to carry out proper rehabilitation of the displaced people.

Enclosing a special edition of the journal titled Genocide Gujarat 2002, Setalvad wrote: “I spent no less than six weeks in total in that hapless state touring not just the metros but far-flung villages to document in detail the happenings.”

Countering the BJP’s claim that the Jagannath rath yatra, which recently passed off peacefully, was a yardstick of the state’s return to normality, Setalvad said: “The yatra took place under strict security where only minority areas were searched and cleansed. No behavioural constraints were put on those found to be offenders. It shows that the state functioning under the current political dispensation continues to be partisan. And therefore unconstitutional.”


New Delhi, July 29: 
As part of the preparations for Assembly polls in 11 states that are to be held by the end of next year, Sonia Gandhi today appointed two more spokespersons.

Sonia picked Lok Sabha MP and Congress whip Satyavrat Chaturvedi and former Union minister Syed Sibtey Razi. They join Jaipal Reddy, Anand Sharma and Abhishek Singhvi as spokesmen for the party.

Party insiders said the five-member panel could be expanded further as Sonia is keen on striking a “gender balance”.

Many were sceptical about the appointments, wondering whether Razi and Chaturvedi would be able to match the oratory skills of BJP spokesman Arun Jaitley, Vijay Kumar Malhotra and Sunil Shastri.

Party sources said Suresh Pachauri, a senior leader from Madhya Pradesh, had been aspiring to become a spokesman but the appointment of Chaturvedi, who hails from the same state, scuttled his chances.

Senior leaders justified the appointments, saying Chaturvedi was shaping up well as a parliamentarian and his appointment would serve as a signal to Madhya Pradesh, which would go to polls late next year. Razi’s services would come in handy as he had a good understanding of the Urdu press, they said.


Ahmedabad, July 29: 
They are two “equal players”. One hates the other, but thanks him too. That’s the theme — and the irony — of Gujarat politics.

Shankersinh Vaghela loves to hate Narendra Modi, the man he blames for creating the rift between him and former chief minister Keshubhai Patel when the BJP first stormed to power in the state.

Yet, despite his strong dislike for the caretaker chief minister, Vaghela is thanking Modi for unwittingly contributing to his rehabilitation in the Congress. The former RSS member was recently appointed the party’s state unit chief, something unthinkable till a few weeks ago, as he was considered the right match for Modi in the election-bound state.

Thanks to Modi, Vaghela is back on Gujarat’s political centrestage, the place he occupied in 1995, making and breaking the BJP — his former party.

In that year, Vaghela was instrumental in bringing the BJP to power. But one year later, he revolted, shattering the myth that the BJP was a “party with a difference” and a disciplined organisation.

He was responsible for the removal of Patel as chief minister. It was at his instance that Suresh Mehta was appointed chief minister. But Vaghela rebelled again. He formed his own government, which lasted less than 12 months. Patel returned to power in 1998 after the Saurashtra Patels voted with vengeance as they felt their leader had been wronged.

When Vaghela joined the Congress, he found that not all were ready to accept him. But today, even those who resented his appointment had to welcome him. Party chief Sonia Gandhi’s move actually hastened the process of the dissolution of the Assembly, as Modi did not want to give Vaghela time to consolidate.

As things stand now, the Congress appears a united force under Vaghela, while the BJP is a divided house. Barring a few, all BJP leaders have united against Modi and want his wings clipped, though the central leadership is backing him.

The other prominent difference between the two leaders and the two parties is that while Modi wants to enjoy all decision-making powers, Vaghela is projecting himself as a man who believes in teamwork. Responsibilities have been assigned to every leader and everyone is being given due importance.

Modi, by contrast, hardly conceals his likes and dislikes. If he does not like a minister, he is not invited to a meeting.

This is exactly what happened with revenue minister Haren Pandya on Saturday, when Arun Jaitley, BJP general secretary in charge of Gujarat, was in town to attend a working committee meeting. Pandya was told not to come.

Recently, when Pandya attended one such meeting, Modi left mid-way.

Pandya and several other dissenters know that if Modi is given a free hand, they may not be re-nominated. But, out of the political fray, these leaders can upset Modi’s poll strategy.


New Delhi, July 29: 
India today said putting Kashmir on the international agenda only meant that Pakistan-sponsored militancy would be highlighted before the outside world.

US secretary of state Colin Powell said yesterday that Kashmir was now part of the international agenda. Aware that the description could lead to a controversy, South Block has launched a damage-control exercise.

“It can only mean that international terrorism is on the international agenda,” foreign ministry spokesperson Nirupama Rao clarified. “Kashmir is the focal point for international terrorism. It is where we see terrorism occur daily with tragic familiarity. We see bloodshed, we see innocent men, women and children being maimed, hurt or killed.”

“Pakistan is involved in this terrorism. That is why Kashmir is on the international agenda and that is why India is engaging the international community in order to inform them about cross-border terrorism being directed against this country by Pakistan and Pakistani forces,” Rao added.

But keeping the hope of a dialogue alive, she said that once the militancy issue was resolved, Delhi would return to the talks table to settle all outstanding issues. Though it was not spelt out, one of these issues is Kashmir.

This will also be the argument of foreign minister Yashwant Sinha during talks with world leaders at the Asean Regional Forum meeting in Brunei.

Sinha left for Brunei to take part in the security dialogue, which begins tomorrow. The minister is scheduled to hold a series of meetings on the sidelines of the conclave with counterparts from China, Russia, Japan, Australia, Canada and Singapore. It is likely that the military standoff between India and Pakistan will be discussed at the meet.

Sinha will have to explain to the world leaders the reason for the military build-up by Delhi along the border and try to rally their support in India’s fight against cross-border terrorism.

Pakistan’s minister of state for foreign affairs Inamul Haq had said yesterday that Powell’s remarks were a clear endorsement of Islamabad’s demand for a plebiscite in Jammu and Kashmir.

But India insisted that the secretary of state’s description of internationalising Kashmir was only limited to the issue of infiltration and cross-border terrorism.

“Pakistan lives in a looking-glass world. By no stretch of imagination could it be construed that he was referring to plebiscite,” the foreign ministry spokesperson said.

She pointed out that the US and all other important world leaders had accepted that the outstanding issues between India and Pakistan have to be sorted out through bilateral dialogue.


New Delhi, July 29: 
Matching Sony Television ball for ball, ESPN-STAR Sports has acquired international cricket telecast rights from five countries in a deal estimated at more than $200 million (approximately Rs 960 crore).

For the viewer in India — the subcontinent has the largest following for the game and is its biggest and most lucrative market — the race to acquire telecast rights means more cricket than ever before and, irritatingly, also more commercial breaks.

It also means more money for the game and, inevitably, an increase in sponsorships.

Today’s announcement is an illustration of where the global cricket industry is taking its major stakeholders — boards, players, viewers, advertisers and broadcasters. It follows ESPN-STAR Sports’ signing an exclusive marketing and programming partnership with Sachin Tendulkar.

Tendulkar will actively promote ESPN and STAR Sports and join the channels on air in exclusive programming.

ESPN-STAR’s acquisition of the cricket rights from Australia, South Africa, New Zealand, Zimbabwe and England till 2008 comes on the heels of Sony’s acquisition of all ICC and World Cup matches till 2007 in a $375-million (approximately Rs 1,800 crore) deal signed earlier this year.

Sony’s deal with ICC is for both cable and satellite and terrestrial rights. Sony does not have a terrestrial network. ESPN-STAR’s deal, too, covers terrestrial rights but even it does not have a terrestrial outlet.

The deals are a pointer to what broadcasters and media planners expect out of advertisement revenues from cricket. It also means that even if the advertisement pie is large, the competition between ESPN-STAR on the one hand, and Sony, on the other, will be stiff with each trying to undercut the other.

Market sources say Doordarshan will also get to telecast many ICC and World Cup matches, despite losing out in the race.

Sources said media broker WSG Nimbus had thrashed out an agreement with Doordarshan. Talks had nearly fallen through because Doordarshan said it did not have the $120 million that was being demanded for terrestrial rights. Ultimately, WSG Nimbus and Doordarshan are understood to have agreed to an 80:20 revenue sharing arrangement.

WSG Nimbus’ interest is in selling the terrestrial rights. Doordarshan is the only terrestrial channel in India.

It is not yet known what ESPN-STAR will do with the terrestrial rights that it owns.

Doordarshan’s telecast of matches will invariably queer the pitch because it has a bigger viewership than the cable channels put together.

For World Cup 2003, Sony and Doordarshan are likely to share 28 important matches. Sony also holds the rights for the 2007 World Cup and three ICC cup tourneys. World Cup 2003 and 2007 will have 54 one-day matches.

But ESPN-STAR’s multi-cricket board deal will mean that it will have more cricket to show than anyone else. The ESPN-STAR managing director said: “This acquisition, along with the other rights we hold, means ESPN-STAR Sports will now showcase more than 1,100 days of live and exclusive top quality international cricket over the next five years.”

One survey has found that till 2007, ESPN-STAR will have 1,108 days of cricket, Sony 153, Ten Sports 184 and Doordarshan 80.

However, Ten Sports is unlikely to have a single day of live telecast of a cricket match featuring India.


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