January 31, 2009


KOLKATA: She with her eruditition, with her kind yet confident demeanour, most importantly with her great dedication to the cause of Marxism-Leninism is no more with us and the body of immensity of work of her whole life remains with us like a shining star that shed, when she was alive and active, a quiet radiance and provided us with a comfort of leadership and of knowing that we are not alone.

Comrade Madhuri Dasgupta belongs to that class of women who performs their duties as mother, as wife, and as organizer, and above all as a revolutionary who struggles towards the farther changes ahead while organising women with a balance of competence and great dignity.

Comrade Madhuri or Dolldi was universally known in the AIDWA and beyond. We have to draw lessons from her far-sighted efforts to make poor women economically self supporting and training them up vocationally from as far back as the mid-forties.

She donated let it be put on record, a great part of her not-too-large house for initiating a self-employment programme. Perhaps we may even say that the success of today’s scheme of women’s self help groups definitely is conceptually and schematically indebted to her.

The major events of her revolutionary life are:
Organizer and leader of ‘Nikhil Banga Mahila Atmaraksha Samity’(1943)
Membership of Communist Party of India(1943)
Marriage with Communist leader comrade Sudhangsu Dasgupta(Babuda) (1943)
Participation in anti-communal movement in Noakhali in what was united Bengal in the pangs of being torn asunder(1946)
Participation in the historical peace march on the demand of freeing of the Communist leaders from jail, a march on which police fired and Latika, Amiya, Pratima, Gita and one young man, Biman, became martyrs(1949)
Primary role in conversion of ‘Nikhil Banga Mahila Atmaraksha Samity’ to ‘Paschim Banga Mahila Samity’ (1958)
Elected Founder general secretary of ‘Paschim Banga Ganatantrik Mahila Samity’(1970)

General Secretary, All India Democratic Women’s Organization, Sudha Sundaraman, Bengal CPI (M) secretary, Biman Basu, member Polit Bureau and AIDWA leader Brinda Karat, AIDWA leader Shyamali Gupta and others deeply mourned her passage that came in the wake of a protracted illness of a fatal kind.



KOLKATA(INN):In its three-day meet at Burdwan Township in the district of Burdwan, Bengal’s rice bowl, the state unit of the AIKS called for agricultural growth at a faster pace. It also heralded a call for industrial growth. Both agenda looked at increased figures of per capita employment as part of the pro-poor developmental perspective of the CPI (M), the Left Front and the Bengal LF government.

The open rally was a ‘mere’ assemblage of six lakh for the district membership of the AIKS itself exceeds 25 lakh. Lest my friends in the corporate media, sorely disappointed at the recent turn of political events in Bengal (more of which in a separate article), jump in glee with both feet in, and label the conference a boycott by the district AIKS, we may hastily posit that only the leadership level cadres were rallied on the occasion. The reason why is to be found in that ever elusive thing in Burdwan – open, uncultivated space.

The final choice fell on a broad swathe of a kilometre-long sandhead on the shores of the now quiescent but otherwise torrential river Damodar, an area of hard-packed gravel that could accommodate but five-odd lakh of people. That an additional one lakh turned up did not quite leave the question dangling of any disciplinary action. The all-India AIKS leadership present was overwhelmed at the response – that was the outcome of strong political drive for, and relentless organisational dedication to the cause of social change.

In an attractive speech delivered in simple but evocative language, Bengal chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee said that a challenge faced Bengal. The challenge comprise making the stat come to the very fore of the country’s states in terms of development of agriculture, industry, education, and health. Buddhadeb was full of praises for the Bengal AIKS for the role it had emoted right from the days of the nation’s freedom struggle to stand by the side of and lead the kisan, the humble tiller of the earth, organising them into a weapon of social change.

The concluding part of the speech of the CPI (M) Polit Bureau member basically dwelt on the land reforms movement and the role of the AIKS in assisting the two UF governments of the late 1960s and then of the Left Front government from 1977 in the process of redistributing land made khas by the political will of the Bengal administration. The lone statistics he mentioned was this, telling as it was in its impact: more than 84% of the 1.35 lakh agricultural land of Bengal belonged to poor and marginal farmers. The state also leads the list in production of rice paddy, vegetables, and jute.

All-India AIKS leader K Varadarajan detailed the horrific picture of the condition of the kisan and of the agrarian scene at the national plane. He reminded the massive assemblage that the AIKS had prevailed upon the central government not to go in for a policy of liberalisation fifteen years ago – and the advice was just put in the back burner. There was collective sigh from the rally when the AIKS leader pronounced that until date, no less than 1.75 lakh desperate kisans, thrashing about in the pangs of abject poverty had preferred either to swallow pesticides or to hang themselves. Was the central government moved by this? No, has been the answer until today, assured Varadarajan. The causes of the mass suicide were market orientation of commodities, lack of good procurement prices, want for viable loan components, and the credit entrapment by the sahukars and the mahajans among others.

Polit Bureau member of the CPI (M) Nirupam Sen who dwelt on the imperatives of pro-employment industrialisation, and veteran AIKS leader Benoy Konar who spoke feelingly on the ‘two nations existing within one nation, the rich and the poor segments,’ also addressed the gathering.

In the wake of the delegate session where there were 525 delegates and observers out of a total of several crore of AIKS membership, a new leadership was elected. Madan Ghosh is the president, Tarun Roy is the secretary, and Achintya Roy is the treasurer of the Bengal unit of the All-India Kisan Sabha.


1.Condolence resolution
2.Struggle against imperialism, terrorism, religious fundamentalism, and separatism
3.Against anarchic attempts to crate chaos in Bengal
4.Industrialisation for the interest of the kisans themselves
5.Organising the khet mazdoor struggles in a multifarious stream of movements
6.Against river erosion, and in favour of extension of irrigation
7.Early completion of the Teesta scheme
8.Early implementation of the Subarnarekha river bund project
9.Strengthening the AIKS and the kisan movement farther
10.Augmenting and accelerating the cooperative and the self-help movements
11.Build up each Panchayat as a Red bastion for the safeguarding of democracy
12.Defend and secure the right of the forest dwellers and forest resources
13.Against the Israeli attack on the Gaza strip and against Palestinian people in general
14.In demand of accelerated process of rural electrification
15.Onwards to the Lok Sabha election coming up

January 21, 2009

Country’s largest solar power plant in state soon

KOLKATA: The state is set to get the countrys largest solar powergeneration plant by the end of March this year, said state power minister, MrMrinal Banerjee speaking this morning at the inaugural ceremony of the 18thInternational Photovoltaic Science and Engineering Conference and Exhibition(PVSEC) at Science City.

The minister said the power plant, under construction atJamuria near Asansol, would be capable of generating around 2MW solar power.The state government has invested Rs 38 crore(USD 8MN) in the project.

As per the norms, 4.8 per cent of the total powerdistributed by West Bengal State Electricity Distribution Company Limited (WBSEDCL) should be generated from renewable resources, which is not currentlythe case. Mr Banerjee said: ""Initiatives to increase powergeneration from renewal resources will be essential for the future of thecompany."" He added: Besides the government initiative,many private companies have started investing in the sector to meet the crisis.


KOLKATA: In the late morning of 20 January, the anarchic separatist activists of the so-called ‘greater Coochbehar’ movement blockaded the busy north-south national highway 34. Initially, 40-odd youth loitered in and out of the road space at Raigunj, dislocation traffic as a logjam started to build up.

Then suddenly, catching everybody by surprise, 500-odd armed separatists, equipped with sharp, cutting weapons, and a few countrymade firearms came out from the roadsides, sat themselves down on the highway and started to attack vehicles as well as passers by including cyclists through heckling, threats and pelting of stones and brickbats. They also created an atmosphere of provocation and the villagers and urban dwellers of the area came out in sheer frustration at the block.

By 12 noon, the civil administration of the subdivision and the police argued with the separatists to withdraw the blockade as tension was on the rise. In response, the divisive elements launched an armed attack on the police and regrettable the latter had to resort to a ‘push back’ through a lathi charge. A few tear gas shells too had to be lobbed. The way was soon cleared.

In a statement, Biman Basu, state secretary, Bengal CPI (M) has condemned the separatists’ acts of commission and has said that the separatists’ ranks are filled with the worker of the Trinamul Congress, the BJP, and the Pradesh Congress, the latter always willing to fish in troubled waters. Biman notes that one Shivaji Sarkar, who leads the Coochbehar separatists, is often seen as a leader of the local unit of the Trinamul Congress, the BJP, and the Pradesh Congress.

Under Sarkar’s nefarious leadership, the separatists have been engaged for some time in a covert manner to create spurts of disturbing of the public life in the district. Sarkar’s henchmen-in-chief are Katan Burman, Sashthu Burman, and Bundilal Burman of Bhatol. Biman has appealed to the Left and democratic forces and the mass of the people of Raigunj and north Dinajpore to protest vociferously against the attempts made afresh to create disruption by the forces of division and separatism. The clique that would go to the extent to call for a de novo division of the state must be isolated from the masses, by the masses, said the CPI (M) leader. (INN)


KOLKATA:The Bengal unit of the Integrated Child Development Scheme or ICDS, a central government project, is by far the largest representative organisation of its kind in Bengal and in the country. The Bengal ICDS unit is affiliated to the CITU. At the all-India level, the unit is a member of the all-India Anganwadi workers’ federation.

The work of the ICDS concerns the health welfare of the mother and the child through a balanced diet of nutrition. The coverage limits the scheme to a child until she or he is of six years. In this realm, the Bengal ICDS has done a continuously exemplary work as far as coverage density and coverage width are concerned. This has been going on with help from the social welfare department of the Bengal Left Front government whose one-time minister and an active ICDS leader is Nirupama Chatterjee who yet heads the organisation as its president.

Each ICDS centre like the one by the side of which I reside in a block of ancient flats in east-central Kolkata, provides a healthy mix of cooked food that comprise rice and / or home-leavened bread (chapatti), lentils and pulses in the form of thick soups, and a variety of green, orange and red vegetables plus milk and potable water keeping in mind the nutritional imperatives of the growing child and the post-partum mother.

The untiring work of ICDS workers in Bengal has helped bring down drastically the rate of child and mother mortality. The ICDS centres also prepare survey reports that are great inputs as developmental indicators. The ICDS workers – they are all women – also help in the tasks of vaccination, schooling, and general social welfare of the child and the mother.

The ICDS workers receive but a pittance from the central government, with the Bengal LF government providing them with what are virtually living wages but even this is not enough. Over and above these travails, the humble but dedicated ICDS worker get no benefits of employment, not even pension and PF facilities, not to speak of cadres, posts, and promotional avenues.

Fluting with impunity the apex court’s order to make the ICDS universal, the successive union governments have carried on with a pitiable state of affairs in the domain of child and mother welfare-- whilst the Bengal LF government is hamstrung by its financial constraints in a state-centre relational structure that heavily tilts towards the latter component.

Of late, as the state conference delegates and speakers from the dais pointed out, the World Bank had sent down a diktat to the docile union government to say that the ICDS project ‘is wasteful and should be restructured.’ This would virtually mean the end of the project as a pro-poor endeavour. The state conference fulminated against this harmful anti-people plan of the central government and raised a set of demands:

1.The ICDS project must be made perennial
2.The scheme must not be privatised
3.Until such time, each Anganwadi worker must receive a wage of Rs 3500 and each Anganwadi assistant, Rs 2500 per month
4.The sixty-plus Anganwadi workers and assistants must be given a lump sum retirement benefit of respective Re one lakh and Rs 50,000
5.The wage must be increased in keeping with the price indices
6.The project must be universalised
7.The World Bank diktat must not be obeyed

The seventh conference that was held at the Salt Lake stadium elected Nirupama Chatterjee as president, Ratna Dutta as the general secretary and Manasi Das as the treasurer of the Bengal unit of the ICDS workers’ association. The open rally that saw the commencement of the conference and which was held at the Rani Rashmoni Road crossing, heard addresses by, among others, CPI (M) leaders Shyamal Chakraborty, Subhas Chakraborty, Kali Ghosh, and Arati Dasgupta.


KOLKATA: In its two-day state committee meeting held at the Muzaffar Ahmad Bhavan on 16 and 17 January 2009, the Bengal CPI (M) resolved to farther widen and strengthen its political-organisational base and to hold a big rally at the maidan to emphasise its stance against anarchy and for pro-poor development. Benoy Konar, central committee member of the CPI (M) presided.

Biman Basu, state secretary, explained the resolutions of the most recent meeting of the central committee. He also said that the upcoming Lok Sabha elections would be a tough challenge for the Bengal unit of the CPI (M) and for the mass of the people of Bengal. Biman was of the firm opinion, as he expressed it, that all kinds of opposition forces, stretching from the right reactionaries to the left sectarians, were arraigned against the Party and the people.

The opposition were working in unison or at least in tandem with one another. The garget was the CPI (M). The Bengal CPI (M), said Biman, must thus build up fast an even better, deeper, and wider contact with the mass of the people, clearing their confusions, and rallying then along the correct path. The Bengal CPI (M) must farther widen and deepen its bases among the rural and urban poor, Biman stressed.

The CPI (M) leader focussed attention of the state-level leadership to the importance of carrying out intense political campaign at all functional levels and to work towards enhancing the level of political consciousness of the CPI (M) workers. The work of campaign must be accompanied by revolutionary discretion and caution.

The district leadership spoke of the experience borne out of organisational conventions held across the state. They identified the points of weaknesses of the organisation. They emphasised the need to carry forth with vigour the ongoing rectification campaign. The state committee noted how the mass mobilisation for development and against anarchic manoeuvres had increased manifold of late. The state committee also had a preliminary look at the processes that obtained behind the results of the three by-elections haled at para, Sujapore, and Nandigram.


KOLKATA, 18th January: The metropolis has been historic witness to many a large rallies. The one held on the morning of 18 January spanned the entire length of the city north to south and the marchers walked in an orderly double-column file. Twenty-one kilometers were covered with masses of the people from all sections of the society. The marchers assembled at the call of the CPI (M).

The basic slogans that under pinned the rally were a cry for development, and a shout against attempts at anarchy—and the slogans reverberated across the length and breadth of Kolkata for all of four hours.

In registering their protests – vibrant and vociferous – the marchers let it be known in no uncertain terms that developmental initiative would have the poorest of the poor at the top of its list of priorities, and the marchers warned the saboteurs of democracy, of the right and the sectarian left padded up by the foreign-funded NGOs not to go ahead with their anarchic planning against the popular and mass mandated Left Front government of Bengal.

Biman Basu, state secretary of the CPI (M) who led the marchers shouldering a large and waving Red Flag also briefly addressed the marchers at the Chiria More crossing near Baranagore in the northern suburbs of the city. Biman said that the country was reeling under the collapsing capitalist economy of the western countries. The prices of articles of common consumption have shot up. The CPI (M) has written to the Congress-run union government to put a leash on the galloping up of the price level – but to little effect. Perhaps this is hardly of surprise concerns as the strident demand does from an anti-people government that would rather be busy hushing the real magnitude of the deepening crisis involving the InfoTech magnates and their hot-money-run firms.

Biman was stringently critical of the foreign policy of the Singh government, a policy that heavily on and towards the US and its lackeys. In a gradual but menacing way, the sovereignty of the nation was put to jeopardy but would Singh and his friends in the ‘right’ places really care? The right reactionary elements have targeted the left in general and the CPI (M) in particular especially after the support to the UPA government was correctly withdrawn some months back on serious grounds of the disastrous-to-sovereignty nuclear accord.

Despite it having been a Sunday, the march was overflowing with people who had come from all over the city and beyond. There were 24 large banners delineating the popular demands as raised by the CPI (M) over the recent period. There were two big tableaux. There were an uncounted number of placards that drew attention of the people to the popular developmental demands of the CPI (M) for Bengal.

The marchers were felicitated in fourteen places in between the starting point and the finishing stage at Tollygunj deep into the south of the metropolis. The marchers had in the van several thousand Party volunteers attired in Red jackets and carrying Red flags.

January 17, 2009

“Reservation based on religion is not possible,” :BUDDHADEB

Kolkata: West Bengal Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee ruled out any reservation on the basis of religion, saying such a quota was not possible. “Reservation based on religion is not possible,” Bhattacharjee told a delegation of the National Commission for Minorities, led by its chairman Md Safi Quereshi.
Quereshi earlier said that the state’s minorities demanded reservation during an interaction with the Commission yesterday.The commission chairman was talking to reporters after the delegation met the CM as part of its visit to assess the status of minorities in the state.
Asked about the Commission’s views on reservation for the minorities, Quereshi said, “it’s a policy matter. I can’t say anything without discussing it with the Centre.” Quereshi said that the Chief Minister also told the delegation that Muslims should not feel isolated even if the minorities were not facing any crisis other than some socio-economic problems in the state.
However, the state government was trying hard to solve all their problems and upgrade their social and economic status through various development programmes and opportunities for employment, Bhattacharjee told the delegates.
During its visit, the Commission interacted with minorities, including Christians, Buddhists, Sikhs and Muslims and reviewed the problems faced by them. Meanwhile, Minister of State for Minorities Affairs and Madrasah Education Abdus Sattar said that taking in view of the socio-economic problems of the minorities, the state government has earmarked Rs 400 crore in the budget.

Recruitment in Bengal IT sector may slump due to meltdown

Kolkata, Jan 15: The recruitment in the information technology (IT) sector in West Bengal is likely to be lower than the target set by the government due to the global economic meltdown, state IT minister Debesh Das said here Thursday. "Last year we generated employment for around 15,000 people in the IT sector and this year we had set a target of 20,000. But now it seems recruitment will be lower than last fiscal (2007-08)," Das told reporters on the sidelines of Infocom 08-09 - an IT seminar.
He said new IT projects growth is slumping but the existing projects are going steady. In the last fiscal 33 companies have registered for the software technology park in the city. This fiscal (2008-09), 30 companies have registered so far. "We expect the number to surpass last year's registration," Das said. Regarding the upcoming India Design Centre at the satellite city of Salt Lake, Das said the cost of construction will escalate as it has been decided now to increase the height of the design centre from 18 floors to 24. The hub will house companies that develop high-end software for computer chips.

Tiger attacks in Sundarbans send wake-up call

KOLKATA: Man is not a natural prey for big cats, but tigers in the Sundarbans in West Bengal are increasingly sneaking out of the dense mangrove forests and attacking humans, prompting the government to finally wake up to the warning signals. An expert committee will be set up to monitor the activities of maneaters, as such big cats are called.

It will try to find out why the tigers are attacking villagers - officially, there have been at least six such cases in the past year, but many more are suspected to have gone unrecorded.It will also suggest steps to prevent such crises.According to top sources in the Sundarbans development affairs department, the proposal to form the expert committee was placed before Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee last week during a meeting with the Sundarbans board.

'The committee will comprise senior officials from the state environment and Sundarbans development affairs departments. This apart, several wildlife experts, especially those who deal with tiger-related issues, will be included. The blueprint is ready and it's with the chief minister now,' a top state government source said on condition of anonymity. 'The committee will monitor why the tigers are often coming out of their core forest belt and attacking humans. If there's any dearth in the food chain, the expert team will also try to find that out after a detailed survey. 'We expect the committee to be formed shortly and it'll start functioning this month,' he said, adding the team might be headed by state chief secretary Ashok Mohon Chakraborty.'A few names have already been suggested but those are not yet finalised,' the official added.According to sources, the team may have experts from the Zoological Survey of India, representatives from the Wildlife Institute of India and faculty members of Calcutta University's zoological department.

Admitting that the number of tiger attacks has seen a sharp increase in the past one year, state Sundarbans Affairs Minister Kanti Ganguly said: 'We've not seen such a rise in the past 25 years'.In India alone, the Sundarbans has a vast area covering 4,262 sq km, including a 2,125 sq km maze of mangrove forests, creeks and tidal rivers. A larger portion of the forest is in neighbouring Bangladesh. There are many villages within this area, with the local population largely dependent on the forest to earn a living, thus triggering a conflict with animals.Shrinking habitat due to climate change and cyclone Sidr, which left behind a trail of devastation in 2007, forced many a Royal Bengal tiger to migrate from Bangladesh into the Indian side of the Sundarbans island.

Wildlife experts say a good number of tigers might have come into the Indian forests in search of food.Reports came Saturday that a fisherman, Gouranga Das, went missing at Jharkhali after he went to the Matla river to catch crabs. Das was cooking his meal on a small boat when a tiger jumped upon the boat and dragged him into the forest.A few pug marks were also spotted Friday evening near Gosaba village in the Sundarbans, triggering panic among villagers. District forest department officials were informed and searched the area, to no avail. Three people - including a girl and a forest official - were injured when a tiger entered Deulbari village near Kultali in South 24 Pargans district, about 110 km from here, in the last week of December. The tiger was later captured by forest officials.Another injured tiger that strayed into a village in the Sundarbans Dec 31 was taken to Kolkata for medical treatment.

'In the past year, at least six people were killed in tiger attacks in the Sundarbans,' Ganguly said. 'Generally what happens is that many people enter Sundarbans creeks without any permit. 'And when they are attacked, their family members don't lodge any complaint with the police. So naturally, we don't get to know the exact figure of how many people are actually killed in tiger attacks in Sundarbans every year.' 'We've also seen a sea change in the behaviour of the Sundarban tigers.

Now they are fearlessly entering nearby villages and attacking people,' the minister said.He said the state government was planning pig farming in Sundarbans to provide adequate food to the man-eaters and stop growing tiger intrusion in the locality.The Sundarbans forest is the world's largest mangrove reserve, recognised as a Unesco World Heritage Site.

West Bengal to revise bus, taxi fares after oil price cut

KOLKATA: West Bengal would review bus and taxi fares when the central government reduces fuel prices, Transport Minister Sunbhas Chakraborty said here Tuesday.'The government of India has not issued any notification so far. But once they issue it, we'll definitely review the bus and taxi fares in our state,' Chakraborty told reporters.
'We'll revise the fares of public transport in West Bengal within just one day from the time the notification will be declared,' he said.Petroleum and Natural Gas Minister Murli Deora last week said the government was working on a price cut and would announce the new rates within 10 or 15 days.

Medical college doctors perform miracle surgery in West Bengal

KOLKATA, Thursday, 15th January, 2009: A team of doctors at the Kolkata government medical college successfully operated on a youth who had been pierced by a six-foot-long iron shaft in a road accident. Sheikh Rezzak Ali, 22, survived a head-on clash with a speeding truck Wednesday morning at Arambag in Kolkata's neighbouring Hooghly district. An iron rod had pierced his right lung in the accident.
The seven-member medical specialist team, headed by surgeon Siddhartha Mukherjee, performed the two-hour long critical surgery at the Calcutta Medical College and Hospital Wednesday to remove the shaft. Mukherjee said Ali showed immense courage and stamina. He was not nervous and did not even faint after suffering the fatal accident.'It helped us to save him,' the doctor added.
Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee Thursday congratulated the doctors and said he wanted to meet them.Ali was driving a Tata Sumo to Arambag with his brother Sheikh Rajak and some neighbours when a truck rammed into them at Shirakol. An iron shaft shot out of the truck, smashed through the windscreen and speared Ali. Rajak managed to pull Ali out of the car and first took him to a nursing home nearby.
Later, he was taken to the state-run Kolkata Medical College and Hospital. A similar accident took place in the national capital in July last year when an engineer, Supratim Dutta, was impaled by an iron beam that perforated seven of his organs. Dutta survived as the beam had narrowly missed his heart, but needed a series of complicated surgeries.

Veteran Indian director Tapan Sinha mourned

KOLKATA: Leading Indian filmmaker Tapan Sinha has died in the eastern Indian city of Kolkata at the age of 84. Sinha, who suffered breathlessness and a chest infection late last year, died in a city hospital.

Last year, he was awarded the prestigious Dada Saheb Phalke award - the highest national cinema honour - for his contribution to Indian cinema.Sinha, who made some 40 films - mostly in Bengali - was a versatile film-maker who straddled a range of themes.

Born in the eastern state of West Bengal - which was home to some of India's most acclaimed directors like the Oscar-winning Satyajit Ray - Tapan Sinha carved out a niche for himself as an intelligent and popular film-maker.

Making films in Bengali and later in Hindi, he took on a wide variety of subjects.Some of his films like Kabuliwalla, Harmonium and Jhinder Bandi became box office hits in Bengal. Ek Doctor Ki Maut (A doctor's death), made in Hindi, gained him nationwide recognition.

"He was an unassuming gentleman who had a strong ear for music and great command over adaptation of famous literary works," film critic Shoma A Chatterji said. Sinha began his career as a sound engineer and shot into the limelight with his 1956 feature Kabuliwalla, based on the story of a relationship between a girl and an Afghan dry fruit-seller by Nobel Prize-winning author Rabindranath Tagore.

He then took up several political and social themes - Adalat O Ekti Meye (The Law and a Lady), for example, dealt with a rape victim ostracised by society.Sinha won more than a dozen film awards in India for his work

2 pilgrims from Bengal killed, 25 injured in mishap

Balasore (Orissa), Jan 13: Two pilgrims from West Bengal were killed and 25 others injured when a bus in which they were traveling collided with a truck near Bahanaga on National Highway 5 in Orissa on Tuesday.
The bus, with 56 pilgrims of Nadia district in West Bengal, was returning from Puri when the driver lost control over the vehicle, police said. While Bharati Biswas (45) and Khokan Saha died on the spot, 25 others were injuries. The injured were admitted to Khantapada and Balasore hospitals and the condition of ten of them was stated to be critical, police said.
Other members of the group remained unhurt or suffered minor injuries. The group hailed from Krishna Nagar village in Nadia district who were on a pilgrimage tour to the seaside temple town on the eve of Makar Sankranti.

WB Govt to speed up phase out of old vehicles

KOLKATA: West Bengal Transport Minister Subhas Chakraborty on Tuesday said the government is committed to introduce pollution-free transport in two years, and accordingly bus and taxi owners would be offered schemes to phase out their old vehicles. "The process has begun with auto rickshaws. Exact schemes for phasing out buses and taxis will be announced later to ensure pollution-free transport in the state," the minister said.
Two stroke autos would no longer be found on city roads and the Calcutta High Court order would be implemented in this regard. Unauthorised autos would also be out of city roads, he said. Chakraborty, earlier, said the state government was planning to procure 400 new generation buses this year and the proposal was discussed with three manufacturers Ashok Leyland, Tata Motors and Eicher Motors.
The minister, however, did not specify when and in how many phases the new buses would be procured and what would be the quantum of investment for the purpose. The Calcutta High Court had in July last year directed that all 15-years-old buses must be phased out by March 31 this year. As such, a large number of old private buses would go off the roads by that time.

Kolkata gets cord blood bank

KOLKATA: A cord blood bank - a source of stem cells for transplantation to cure a range of diseases - was opened here Tuesday.This is the first Indian facility launched by Cordlife Ltd, a Singapore-based cord blood banking group.
'The first Cordlife facility in India, with a storage capacity of up to 1,50,000 cord blood units, has been set up at Bishnupur area on the outskirts of Kolkata. There are two additional centres - at Siliguri town in West Bengal's Darjeeling district and Durgapur in Burdwan district - for blood collection,' group CEO Steven Fang told reporters here.Fang said stem cell therapies will also be developed at the Kolkata centre.'Cord blood has become a very common source of stem cells for transplantations. Permanent cures are possible for some diseases using stem cell therapies,' he said.'
At present, the Rs.100 million facility will be used only for storing and preserving cord blood. But within 18 months we will develop stem cell therapies for treating various diseases like heart ailments, diabetes, skin trauma, certain cancers like leukaemia and breast cancer, and blood disorders like thalassemia major,' Fang said.
Cordlife will invest Rs.300 million in 18-24 months to set up similar facilities across India.'First, we are targeting the major cities like Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai, Hyderabad and Bangalore followed by tier-two cities,' said Meghnath Roy Chowdhury, managing director (MD), Cordlife Sciences India Pvt Ltd.Cord blood, which is also called 'placental blood', is the blood remaining in the umbilical cord and placenta following birth and after the cord is cut. Cord blood is routinely discarded with the placenta and umbilical cord.However, the cord blood, with its rich sources of blood stem cells, can be used to treat over 80 diseases.

January 14, 2009


KOLKATA: Another link has been snapped between the pre-independence Bengal Left-led revolutionary movement against colonialism and the Communist struggle, with the passing away of comrade Sailesh Chaudhuri, a member, until recently and until a fell disease rendered him physically challenged, on the board of editors of the weekly organ of the Bengal CPI (M) Deshahitaishee. State secretary of the Bengal CPI (M) Biman Basu presently in Purulia, and Ashok Bandyopadhyay, present editor of the weekly among others have condoled the departed comrade’s passing away.

Born in the former East Pakistan on November 25 1925, comrade Sailesh became a Party member at a tender young age in the year 1941. He developed himself theoretically and in the fields of struggle, bit by tiny bit, until he was a soldier of the then CPI, and the CPI (M)) -- after the united Party split in 1964.

A comrade who hated the word ‘journalist’ to be appended to his name and reputation (which was considerable), comrade Sailesh remained a ‘reporter,’ until he was rendered incapacitated. We recall the fiery decade of the 1970s when comrade Sailesh was found by us reporting on the jute strike from the now-sick Gondolpara jute mill in the heart of bustling Chandernagore in Hooghly, living his life amongst the chatkal mazdoors, mingling with them, sharing the considerable burden of their lives as lay-offs increased by quantum leaps – and the mazdoors under the Chatkal Mazdoor Union would not give up. This trend of comrade Sailesh’s style of reportage continued until the recent Panchayat polls when he would roam the districts and watch the rural bodies in action.

No wonder, his reportage had the stamp of field-level authenticity-- something that the corporate media has always lacked, sitting as they do in the comfort of their cubicles and weaving anti-Communist stories to their hearts contents-- and facts be darned. Comrade Sailesh wrote in simple language divested of linguistic callisthenics, and was never a show off although he was by any standard a ‘star’ reporter, an asset to any media, Communist or otherwise, if only for the hard factual reporting he would exult in.

We consider it to have been our privilege to work with comrade Sailesh for three decades or more, especially during the period I wrote in the decade of the 1980s, a foreign affairs column in the Deshahitaishee. A soothing but consistent critic of my contributions especially to PD, comrade Sailesh never had a harsh word for me except to say that I needed to tone my ‘revolutionary’ zeal down to the softness of the earth where harsh battles are fought and where such conflicts shall continued to be fought until the farther goals are achieved. Comrade Sailesh was a man filled with expectations for such social changes and remained a Communist to the core until his death.


KOLKATA: Meetings, rallies, and marches marked 10 January when lakhs upon lakhs of people from all strata of the society came out onto the streets and the roads, the lanes and the by-lanes, the rural areas and the urban stretches to condemn Israeli barbarism in the name of ‘defence’ on the Gaza strip in particular and in Palestine in general.

The photo of a young boy swinging a sling-shot containing a small fragment of brick as the Israeli-flown US-made Apache helicopters rained down death on men, women, and children was carried by the marchers as a symbol of the acts of inhuman dimensions taking place in west Asia. The attack of the Gaza strip was preceded some months back by the deathly assault on the sovereignty of Lebanon in the name of Hezbollah just as Hamas is uttered again, and yet again, to ‘justify’ slaughter of the innocent in Palestine.

Marches were taken out by all the Left Front-affiliated units of mass organisation, the workers, the kisans, the youth, the women, the students, and the intellectuals and artistes. Kolkata with its great anti-imperialist tradition witnessed some of the largest rallies in recent times in front of the US information centre in the heart of the metropolis.


KOLKATA: It was all a case of whisper and run. G-a-n-a-sh-a-k-ti, we would utter at an undertone, low pitch and lower volume, when we saw a working class or a lower-income urban person hurrying by the College Street-Harrison Road crossing near the Presidency College, and slip him or her a copy of the evening Ganashakti and the person would without looking us in the face, equally covertly slip us an eight-anna or a rupee piece would not wait for any return of ‘change.’ Then we would disappear-- mingling seamlessly into the office-and-factory crowd retuning from work, and hurrying to the Sealdah railway station nearby. There was no flyover here, then. It was the anarchic decade of the 1970s.

Nevertheless, mostly, it was a case of, as we said, whisper and run, and for our lives. In most instances, Congress mastans from the nearby Amherst Street den of the local MLA would roam around waiting for a hawker of Ganashakti to show himself and then pounce on him in their wolfing dozens, and then, beat him until he would fall unconscious-- and who cared whether the fallen comrade was dying from massive internal bleeding?

Alternatively, or sometimes in tandem, it would be the Congress-backed ‘Naxalites,’ of a new generation of violent neo-fascists, emerging from the gully of a ‘road’ called Bhabani Dutta Street who hurled bombs and ran at us, flourishing daggers. The law-keepers would simply look the other way – too frightened to do anything. The corporate newspapers were demonstratively casual in reporting or keeping silent on the death of a CPI (M) sales-person even as everybody in the media knew that we were braving every frighteningly adversarial circumstance determinedly and every evening to sell Ganashakti, the evening newspaper of the Bengal unit of the CPI (M).

Since then, comrades, we have come a long, long way. However, it must be put on record that while there was a qualitative change in the daily lives of people, and in the process of democratisation at the grass-roots level when the CPI (M) and the Left Front came roaring out of the elections of 1977 at the crest of a mighty popular wave, the Ganashakti was never a de novo phenomenon in 1977 and onwards, alone. Through the roughest of times, it has maintained its role unbroken, back held straight, as a Party organ, as an agitator, and as an organiser, as per the Leninist dictum that continues to govern it today.

Changes, yes, have certainly taken place. It is a big broadsheet of a newspaper now, from the two-page tabloid it was, sometimes carrying sixteen pages, and eight pages are the norm. More additional pages are planned in the days to come. Colour and graphics of a superior order have touched the contents. The hand composition, the linotype, and the photo-offset have given way to computer composition, very often than not ‘online.’ The number of subscribers has increased, what, perhaps several thousand folds so that the newspaper, a morninger for decades now, is able to commandeer a niche amongst the cut-throat-everything-sells-including-lies-served-up-with-attractrive-supplements media world of the 21st century.

Prakash Karat, CPI (M) general secretary was the principal speaker at the celebrations held at the Calcutta university centenary hall on 3 January 2009, and he roamed over a large range of subjects. Prakash Karat’s overwhelming and overarching arguments were in the realm of India’s present set of foreign policy imperatives that made it kow-tow in a lowly humbled fashion before the violent tents of US imperialism.

Linking up terrorism with imperialism, the CPI (M) leader said that when one spoke of fighting terrorism and its discontents, one must not at the same time be a running mate of the violence-in-action that was the US military might. The speaker also came down heavily on the linkages now clearly seen between religious fundamentalism of both kinds and terrorism. He also explained the causes of the no-longer-sub-prime financial crises overwhelming the capitalist world, and affecting the developing countries in the process.

Biman Basu, state secretary of the CPI (M) saw the burgeoning of semi-fascist terror of the 1970s in the way the Trinamulis and the lackeys tried their best or worst to disrupt the social fabric through inchoate violence, chaos, and anarchic manoeuvres, and had the corporate media to give them the publicity of the ‘right’ kind.

From the divisive moves of the GJM at Darjeeling, to the vicious plan to snatch away three western districts of Bengal for a ‘merger’ with Jharkhand, to the everyday violence unleashed on the daily lives of the working people – the Trinamulis and their running mates were out to create an atmosphere of instability in Bengal, as the Lok Sabha elections approached fast, and as their desperation grew by leaps and bounds.

Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, Bengal chief minister noted that in every issue touching daily lives from the grievance of the PTTI studentship to the sub judice issue of auto-rickshaw illegality to developmental and urbanisation schemes was being poisoned by the Trinamul Congress with its attitude of innate violence against all pro-people, civil, and civilised manners of existence itself. Buddhadeb narrated the successes of the Left front government over the years and said that every aspect of the lives of people was considered whenever land was acquired for developmental purposes.

Prakash Karat set the tone of the meeting that had become more of a rally held indoors, when he said that the struggle of the Bengal CPI (M) was never of its own alone—the whole party stood by it with the revolutionary earnestness the struggle deserved. The evening also saw a cultural programme. The Party units selling the highest number of the daily were felicitated. Ganashakti editor Narayan Dutta presided.


Kolkatans celebrate with a photo exhibition the legendary leader’s visit to their city in 1973.

PHOTOGRAPHS: BY SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT From the "FIDEL in Kolkata" photo exhibition in December 2008. The historic moments were captured by the late Satya Sen, a leading photgrapher of the time. Here, Castro alighting from his aircraft.

FIDEL CASTRO was in Hanoi when the news of Chilean President Salvador Allende’s assassination reached him. It was September 1973 and Vietnam was locked in a deadly struggle for independence against American imperialism. Castro cut short his stay in Vietnam immediately and headed straight back for Cuba. En route, his flight halted for less than an hour at the Calcutta International Airport in Dum Dum on September 17. The simple stopover turned out to be a historic touchdown. Even after 35 years, it excites the imagination of the people of the city, as the huge turnout at the photo exhibition of the occasion recently in Kolkata proved.

None of the Union Ministers was present at the airport to receive Castro as it was an unofficial visit. The then West Bengal Chief Minister, Siddhartha Shankar Ray of the Congress, was in New Delhi, and it was senior Cabinet Minister Tarun Kanti Ghosh who welcomed Castro on the State government’s behalf. Left leaders of the State including Communist Party of India (Marxist) stalwarts Jyoti Basu and Promod Dasgupta, State president of the Forward Bloc Ashok Ghosh, State president of the Revolutionary Socialist Party (RSP) Makhan Pal, local Congress leaders, members of the then Soviet embassy, representatives of various women’s organisations, government officials, journalists and photographers, all flocked to meet the legendary “Comandante en Jefe”.

The waiting crowd.
Outside, thousands of Kolkatans gathered to catch a glimpse of Castro. With the help of an interpreter, he chatted with everyone, posed for photographs, nibbled at the snacks laid out for him in the VIP lounge of the airport, and finally boarded the airplane after extending a revolutionary salute to the crowd.
The historic moments were captured for posterity by the late Satya Sen – one of the leading photographers of his time. The five-day “Fidel in Kolkata” photograph exhibition (from December 26 to 30) was organised by the Prabha Khaitan Foundation in collaboration with the Embassy of Cuba and the Nandan West Bengal Film Centre. Thirty of the surviving black-and-white photographs capture him alighting from the aircraft, shaking hands with Jyoti Basu, embracing veteran Marxist leader Gopal Banerjee, conversing with other Left leaders, posing with admirers, partaking of the refreshments, waving to the crowd, and finally boarding the flight to Cuba. The exhibition served to celebrate not just the 35th year of Castro’s visit but, more importantly, the 50th year of the Cuban Revolution.

CPI(M) stalwarts Jyoti Basu and Promod Dasgupta greeting Castro.
Castro left no one disappointed. Clad in his military fatigues and holding his customary cigar elegantly poised between his fingers or lips, he seemed completely at ease and every inch the stuff that myths are made of. Addressing the crowd from the airport portico, Castro recalled in his speech India’s freedom struggle and Kolkata’s tradition of people’s movements against imperialism.

Amid cries of “India-Cuba Solidarity”, “Long live Fidel” and “Long live Allende” from the crowd, he said: “I am well aware of the long cultural history and tradition of India, dating back thousands of years, and the way the country was laid waste by the imperialist powers…. This is where India and Cuba share the same fate in their impediment to development. To combat this requires more sacrifice and long-drawn struggle.” He ended his 15-minute speech with a call for the “workers of the world to unite to fight the forces of imperialism”.

In the crowd that had gathered to see Castro was film director Gautam Ghosh. Recalling his experience of the day, Ghosh said: “I was in my early twenties. Somehow the news had leaked out that Fidel Castro would be in the airport, though he wouldn’t be staying back. It was a chance I felt I could not miss and so I rushed to the airport just to catch a glimpse of him. Going through the pictures in the exhibition, was, in fact, a very nostalgic moment for me. I even tried to find myself in the pictures of the crowds outside the airport, but I couldn’t. I did spot Ruma Guha Thakurta [renowned Bengali artiste] though, but she was already quite famous by then, and I was still unknown, having just started making short documentary films.”

Castro embracing veteran Marxist leader Gopal Banerjee.

Ghosh said Castro and Che Guevara were the icons of his generation. “It was a very romantic era. The whole world was going through changes and we could not but be affected by it. In fact, many of my friends became naxalites, not so much inspired by the ideology as by the romanticism involved in the movement.”

Ghosh narrated how he discovered that Che himself had come to Kolkata in 1959. “Just recently I went across to the Indian Statistical Institute and chanced upon a picture of Che visiting the Kolkata ISI campus. I was thrilled by this discovery, and I don’t think that many people are aware of this fact,” he said.

Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee inaugurated the photo exhibition. Present on the occasion were Cuban Ambassador to India Miguel Angel Ramirez Ramos, CPI(M) State secretary and Left Front chairman Biman Bose, CPI(M) Polit Bureau member Sitaram Yechury, CPI leader Manjukumar Majumdar, Forward Bloc leader Naren De, RSP leader Manoj Bhattacharya, artist Wasim Kapoor and writer Sunil Gangopadhyay.

The Cuban Ambassador said, “He [Castro] came and won the hearts of the Bengali people, leaving behind pictures and memories of his visit…. The message behind it is more profound. It is a message of friendship, of solidarity and of mutually shared values in a better world where social justice can prevail. On this occasion, when we do not only celebrate the 35th anniversary of Fidel’s visit to Kolkata but also start celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Cuban Revolution, there is no better audience or public space to do that.”

Nibbling at the snacks laid out for him in the VIP lounge of the airport.
Film director Mrinal Sen, who visited the exhibition on the inaugural day, said he particularly liked the way the exhibition served to keep alive something that took place so long ago. “Though I have never met Fidel Castro, I have had a close relationship with his dear friend Gabriel Garcia Marquez, who was the president of the Film School in Cuba when I had been there for a stint. Those pictures serve to recall the glorious days of the past and remind us what we are missing now,” he said.
The sentiment expressed by him is representative of the general feeling of the masses, especially the younger generation, towards the Cuban Revolution and its heroes, though the world has changed a great deal since then. Gautam Ghosh summed it up aptly: “Such exhibitions are very important. We live in the present, but the present is just a hyphen between the past and the future.

“It is important for the youngsters of today to know about the past, to try and understand why so many people flocked to the airport in 1973 just to catch a glimpse of Castro.”

January 13, 2009

Buddhadeb blames activists for delaying development projects

Kolkata, 13th January: West Bengal Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacherjee on Tuesday accused environmental activists of putting obstacles to implementation of various development projects through litigations.

"A lot of NGOs have mushroomed now and their job is to delay the projects by raising environmental concerns," Bhattacharjee said after laying the foundation stone of a water treatment plant near East Kolkata Wetlands, which is an ecologically fragile area included in the Ramsar list of wetlands. This particular project, spread over 20.15 acres, would start two years behind schedule after environmental activists moved Calcutta High Court for its being so near the east Kolkata wetlands, he said.

However, the HC allowed the project on December 24 and the Kolkata Municipal Corporation decided to complete the project of providing drinking water by treating water from the Hooghly river, the Chief Minister said. The water treatment plant with a capacity to treat 30 million gallons of water daily would be completed in three years and would provide drinking water to 10 lakh people living on the eastern fringes of the city.

Kolkata may get monorail running on LPG in two years

Kolkata: A monorail service running on cooking gas? With an eye on the record books, that is exactly what a Kolkata-based company has planned for the city two years on. "No monorail system in the world runs on LPG (liquefied petroleum gas). We want to be the first to do so. We have spoken to Indian Oil (Corporation) for providing us with adequate support for such a service," Biplab Bhattacharya, director of Andromeda Technologies, told mediapersons.

Andromeda has got the contract for constructing the first stretch of 20 km of monorail from Budge Budge to Taratala on a build-own-and-operate basis for an approximate cost of Rs.600 million (Rs.60 crore) per km. The train will use hybrid technology that will enable it to run on both electricity and LPG. It will have four coaches, each with its own electric generator, which would accommodate 150 passengers.

"We expect to start the project in March 2009. It will take a little more than two years to complete the work. Indian Oil officials have said they can ready proper infrastructure for LPG support within the time frame when the monorail work is scheduled to be completed," Bhattacharya said. The company plans to run the train with hydrogen gas in future, he added. "We are also planning a feeder service with around 40 LPG buses, which will help the commuters travel to their destinations from the monorail stations," Bhattacharya said.

As of now the city has no LPG or compressed natural gas (CNG) buses. Asked whether the city was equipped to supply fuel for the LPG bus service, an Indian Oil official said: "Now there are 12 LPG pumps in the city. We have five pumps. If there is market requirement, I am sure we will be able to meet it. There is no shortage of LPG. We have a refinery at Haldia."

The monorail will be the latest addition to the various rail transport networks in the city. Apart from the general railway service, the city already has the metro railway, the circular rail and the tram. Once the first phase is complete, the government will take a call on awarding the contract for the second phase stretching 52 km till Rajarhat in the city's northeastern fringes.

"Based on how the first phase goes, we will consider how to award the contract for the remaining work. The main constraint for such a project within the city is space," said West Bengal Transport Secretary Sumantra Chowdhury. The total expense for the first phase will be to the tune of Rs.12 billion, with a debt-equity ratio of 4:1. Now Andromeda is looking for overseas financial partners and hopes to clinch a deal soon.

The company will initially rope in coaches from Germany. But in due course, it will get coaches manufactured in India. It will partner German companies Fernmeldewerk Munchen Aubing GmbH for signalling and Derap AG & Helbling Technik for technological know-how.

West Bengal Government promoting river tourism in a big way

Kolkata, Jan.13 : Ganga Kutir lies along the banks of the Ganga in the pastoral hamlet of Raichak-on-Ganges, about an hour and halfs drive from Kolkata, West Bengal. This 12-crore property sprawling over two acres symbolizes the potential of River Tourism in the state.It’’s no wonder then, that the West Bengal Tourism Development Corporation is foreseeing an investment of Rs 150 crore in the next couple of years just for promoting river tourism.
The investment would go towards renovating heritage ghats along the Ganges as well as developing a Marina with speed boats, para-sailing and cruise boats facilities.There is no doubt that river tourism targets the high-end tourists. For example, Ganga Kutir caters to an exclusive set who can drive down from Kolkata to enjoy a couple of days of total relaxation in the lap of luxury.The resort has 16 rooms priced at Rs 12000 onwards, a library, a bar, a Spa, a swimming pool which seems to merge into the river, river cruise facilities and an excellent restaurant.
According to Mr Harshvardhan Neotia, even though Kolkata was lacking is such weekend tourist spots, this segment is now really catching up.Neotias Ambuja Realty first set up the five-star hotel Fort Raichak with conference facilities on the river side at Raichak. The property continues to have over 60% occupancy through the year with 100% occupancy in the four months of Oct, Nov, Dec, January as well as during the holiday season. Neotia says that Fort Raichaks success propelled him to set up Ganga Kutir a more exclusive retreat on the river side.
In just two months from its launch in November, Ganga Kutir has been such a success that Ambuja Realty is planning to add another 12 rooms to the property. The total project area now extends to about 70 acres and the projected investment is Rs 100 crore.The superb Spa facility with Swedish, Thai, Javanese, Ayurvedic treatments and reflexology and stone therapy is common to both Fort Raichak and Ganga Kutir and is a compelling reason for the clients to take the trip. The very fact that Sri Lankan architectect Channa Daswatte was called in to design Ganga Kutir in traditional Bengal Ashram style indicates that promoters are sparing no efforts to provide world class resorts which re-define luxury.
West Bengal has the right specifications to become the river tourism destination in India with the magnificent delta Sunderbans with its mangrove forests and the pilgrimage point Sagar Islands where the Ganga Sagar Mela is held every year, points out Manabendra Mukherjee, West Bengal Minister for Tourism. The government has already announced a new tourism policy with a positive approach towards river tourism. The policy offers several incentives, grants and subsidies to investors wanting to invest in this segment.Though the budgetary support to tourism is only Rs 35 crores, the minister makes it clear that the government was actively seeking private investment in this sector.
The government is expecting about Rs 4000 crore private investment, including FDI, in tourism and infrastructure.Private promoters like Ambuja Realty, who offer private ferry rides to Sunderbans Delta and Sagar Islands from its project at Raichak say that development in river and road infrastructure would go a long way in attracting tourists.According to Mr T V N Rao, Managing Director, West Bengal Tourism Development Corporation, there was great scope for investment in river tourism in the state starting from hotels along the banks of the Ganges, river entertainment, infrastructural development of the Sunderbans Delta area, which is still very undeveloped etc. There is also tremendous potential for investment in Tea Tourism in the Dooars in North Bengal which has over 350 Tea Gardens and Hill Tourism in Darjeeling.Growth in West Bengal Tourism is on the positive side despite the recent recession, according to Mukherjee.
Both inflow of tourists into the state and outflow is higher than the national average and West Bengal figures in the top five states of the country in tourism.From 1,14,064 foreign tourists in 1991, West Bengal saw an inflow of 6,38, 256 foreign tourists by June alone in 2008. The total tourist inflow into the state in the first six months of 2008 touched 12076102 from a mere 3225502 in the whole of 1991. Total tourist inflow into Kolkata alone stood at 48,59,961 in 2007.Considering that the state has rivers, hills, tea gardens and a delta only thing missing being a desert it can be safely assumed that the state will go a long way as a tourist hub with support from the private sector.

1.5 lakh pilgrims at Ganga Sagar

Sagar Island (WB), Jan 12 : In the backdrop of the Mumbai terrorist attacks, security at the Ganga Sagar mela was beefed up with Kapil Muni's temple cordoned off and 5000 policemen deployed at the fair which began today, official sources said. About 1.5 lakh pilgrims, including a large number of sadhus from across the country and Nepal have congregated for the mela, the largest religious congregation in this part of the country, for the holy dip on Makar Sankranti on Wednesday, the sources said.
There were 24 watch towers, 22 of them with close circuit TVs, while metal detectors and sniffer dogs were being used to check pilgrims, the sources said. A Fokker aircraft and helicopters of the Coast Guard were keeping watch from the air and a hovercraft on the waters, the sources said. A total 14 additional superintendents of police, besides the South 24 Parganas police superintendent were keeping round-the-clock vigil. Over 100 NGOs were at work to provide services to the pilgrims. The West Bengal government has withdrawn all taxes except pilgrim tax of Rs 5 this time.

Cong divided over Trinamool alliance

KOLKATA, 12th January: The Congress in West Bengal is divided over an alliance with Trinamool Congress for the coming Lok Sabha election. While a section of Congress leaders left for Delhi on Monday to advise AICC leaders to exercise caution against such an alliance, others did not go. Those who left for Delhi were led by Congress Legislature Party chief Manas Bhunia. Among the group were a few legislators, too, it was learnt from party sources. On the other, the two working presidents of the Pradesh Congress Committee (PCC), Subrata Mukherjee and Pradip Bhattacharya, did not go. Bhunia had of late been critical of Congress leaders leaving the party and joining Trinamool. Accusing Trinamool of engineering defections in the Congress, he said that would not pave the way for an alliance between the two. It was believed he was leading the group, which did not want an alliance while both Mukherjee and Bhattacharya had advocated in favour of an alliance at a recent meeting with external affairs minister Pranab Mukherjee. During their stay in Delhi, Bhunia and his colleagues were likely to meet Pranab and Mohsina Kidwai, AICC general secretary in charge of West Bengal, too, it was learnt. "They are not against any alliance. But they want it to be forged on honourable terms for the Congress," Bhattacharya said. Mukherjee said other PCC leaders would also give their opinions about such an alliance to the AICC, but only when asked to do so. "First, let us assess what Delhi is thinking about the alliance," he pointed out. Although Trinamool chairperson Mamata Banerjee has not commented on her plans for an alliance with Congress, she had lately been in touch with Congress president Sonia Gandhi, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh as well as Pranab Mukherjee. Going by the indications, she would rather firm up the question of an alliance with the Congress high command rather than depend on state-level PCC leaders. Mamata's move on Monday of not sharing a platform with BJP leader Rahul Sinha at a public meeting at Nandaram Market was indication enough that she was serious about not having any relation with BJP, observers said. For the Congress to ally with the Trinamool, the latter must snap all ties with NDA. But state level PCC leaders wanted to ensure that Trinamool left some seats for Congress with a winning chance in south Bengal, too. They would not agree to a scheme of things under which Trinamool would have all the seats in south Bengal, leaving Congress to contest only those in North Bengal.

West Bengal announces compensation for tribal women in Lalgarh

Kolkata, January 12: The West Bengal government Monday announced compensation for the tribal women in West Midnapore’s Lalgarh who had been victims of police excesses during raids November last year, officials said.The compensation would be given to 14 tribal women who received injuries during the police action.

“We’ve decided to give Rs.50,000 to a tribal woman, Sitamoni Murmu, who suffered a serious injury during the police operation. The state government will also grant Rs.25,000 to Palmoni Murmu and 12 other tribal women will get Rs.15,000 each,” Ardhendu Sen, the state home secretary, told reporters here.

Trouble erupted at Lalgarh after the police arrested some school students and allegedly heckled tribal women after the convoy of Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee and central ministers Ram Vilas Paswan and Jitin Prasada was ambushed with a landmine blast near Bhadutala Nov 2 while they were returning after a steel plant inauguration.

On Dec 8, almost a month after the tribal agitation was launched in Lalgarh, a committee against police atrocities, headed by tribal leader Chhatradhar Mahato, kicked off an agitation. They demanded a public apology from the district police for the alleged excesses committed against them during the course of investigation into the landmine blast.

A state government-appointed panel, headed by backward classes welfare department secretary R.D. Meena, earlier submitted its report to West Bengal Chief Secretary Asok Mohan Chakrabarti. After examining the report, Chakraborty placed it before Bhattacharjee.“Though there was no specific report against the police officers involved in the operation, we’ve decided to take action against the inspector-in-charge (IC) of Lalgarh Sandip Singha and officer-in-charge Sushanta Rajbangshi for their role in the police operation,” Sen said. He said the state government would take action against the police officers later.

Gee Pee plans expansion beyond West Bengal

KOLKATA, 11th January: Gee Pee is aiming to bank on the pricing differentiation in its attempt to take on popular manufacturers in the touch screen mobile handset segment. The company has now come up with mobile handsets priced at Rs 7,500.

The phones are currently being manufactured at Shenzhen China and the company aims to come up with an R&D centre in Bengal employing about 100 professionals. The company plans to expand its footprint beyond Bengal this year and go for a pan-India expansion as well as foray into the Bangladesh, Kenya and Gulf markets.

January 11, 2009

Congress seeks new industries at abandoned Nano project site

Kolkata, 11 January: Hundreds of Congress activists on Sunday staged a road blockade in front of the abandoned Tata Motors small car factory site at Singur in West Bengal, demanding new industrial units in the area. The agitation continued for more than two hours near Khaserbheri area in Hooghly district, causing major traffic congestion on the Durgapur Expressway.
"We want new industries at the abandoned Tata Motors factory site at Singur. We do not know whether Tata will set up any factory there or any other company will come forward. But there should an industrial unit on the acquired land that is lying vacant for months,"said senior Congress leader Abdul Mannan, who led the agitators. Some industrial units should come up at Singur for the sake of those farmers, who willingly gave their land to the government for the Tata factory, he said, adding that if there would be no industrial unit at Singur, the state government should return the land to the farmers.
The automobile major last year announced it was pulling out its Nano small car unit from Singur, following a prolonged agitation by the opposition Trinamool Congress supporters demanding 400 acres out of the total area 997.11 acres taken for the project. Since its inception in May 2006, the project to roll out Nano, the Rs.100,000 car, encountered resistance from the Trinamool-led farmers protesting against the 'illegal' acquisition of the farmland.

Adlabs to increase presence in city

KOLKATA,11 January, 2009: Adlabs Films, the film entertainment arm of Reliance ADAG, is keen on increasing its presence in the city. "We want to open two to three screens in Kolkata in addition to the existing Adlabs multiplex in Salt Lake," Anil Arjun, the CEO of the firm, said on Saturday. He was in the city to deliver a lecture at IIM-Calcutta's international business school meet.
However, when contacted, a company spokesperson was more forthcoming and elaborated that Adlabs was exploring multiple avenues for its expansion plans. "We could open a multiplex, have single-screen standalone theatres or refurbish existing establishments. All these options are being looked into and we are in talks with a number of people," she told TOI.
Though the company has no specific time frame in mind, it would like to begin operations here as soon as possible, she added. In the last few years, the entertainment major had renovated and modernised numerous theatres nationwide. This could be an opportunity for Kolkata to have many of its dilapidated cinemas restored. Adlabs is also mulling entering other cities in the state with an approach not unlike the one for Kolkata. "The tier II cities in West Bengal are definitely part of our plan and we could have a combination of screens there, including standalone and refurbished theatres. This strategy has worked well for us in other parts of the country," the spokeswoman said, without disclosing names and numbers for the expansion blueprint. Big Pictures, another Reliance ADAG company, too, has planned to increase its projects in the state.
The production house, which is already producing Rituparno Ghosh's Shob Charitro Kalponik and Abahoman and Buddhadeb Dasgupta's Janala, could take more directors from the Bengali film industry on board. "We definitely want to make more Bengali films for which we are talking to Sandip Ray. But we don't want to pile up our projects and create an inventory," said Mahesh Ramanathan, the company's COO.

Adivasis getting commando style training in West Bengal

Bankura-Purulia border (West Bengal), Jan.10 (ANI): Over one thousand Adivasi men and women are being given 'commando' training in Taldanga village on the Bankura-Purulia border in West Bengal. At a war camp which began on January 7, the men and women were given theoretical and practical training in using traditional weapons to attack as well as defend.

Armed with bows and arrows, spades and hammers, the Adivasis are training rigorously, under Maoist guidance, to protect themselves from those who are eroding democratic values and suppressing their rights. They raise the 'Red Salute' (Lal Salaam) with pride and take oath to attack and defend in firm, strong voices.

They make it clear that they would no longer take things lying down and that they have lost faith in the country's law and order machinery. Giving the example of the de-robing of a young Adivasi girl in Guwahati during a peaceful rally on Nov 24, 2007, the participants at the war camp say that they have reached the end of their patience, particularly after the Assam incidence. The sheer apathy of the majority was obvious then, they say, adding that many were busy taking pictures instead of protecting the girl.

The Adivasis are convinced that the police and administration become mute spectators when they are abused, or when their lands are snatched away, or when they are killed across the country. Even in Bengal, CPI(M) cadres have regularly tried to exploit and suppress the backward tribals by attacking and killing, the participants alleged. For 59 years we have waited and observed, claimed Sitaram Azad, a representative of the Jharkhand Desam Party.

But nothing was done for our rights. We are now not going to get insulted, abused, exploited or killed quietly, we will fight those who come to attack us ourselves, he adds. Adivasis from seven states, including Jharkhand, Bihar, Orissa, West Bengal, Andhra Pradesh, Chattisgarh and Assam are participating in the ongoing camp. The camp organizers refused to divulge the duration of the camp.

The Adivasis are also disillusioned with the role of political parties. They allege that whenever a political party took up their cause, it was with a vested agenda. Now, they say, they have united under the banner of the 'Jharkhand Desam Party' to fight for their rights, not through just words, but also through action if need be. The participants said that whenever they had defended themselves by picking up their own arms, they have prevailed, but dependence on the law enforcers of the country has always seen the adivasis being victimized in any situation.
Though the impression is that the JDP is a regular outfit, there is no hiding the fact that its totally backed by Maoists. The participants of the war camp take oath in true Maoist fashion, raising the 'Red Salute'. They also say tribal prayers.

The adivasis are marching to war drum beats in commando fashion. Their weapons may be crude and traditional but the spirit to fight, to attack and defend, is as strong as any skilled operator. State governments across the country are napping in ignorant bliss while this backward, suppressed class is preparing steadily for a war to capture their rights and get recognition in India.
By Ajitha Menon (ANI)

Govt pays extra for coals extracted from its own mines

Kolkata,10 January: The West Bengal government is paying 134 per cent extra on coal extracted from its own mines, which has resulted into a higher cost of power supply in the state. Instead of retaining the mine rights of Tara East and Tara West blocks of coal mines that the Centre had given to the state government in 1996, the latter chose to rope in Eastern Mineral and Trading Agency (EMTA), which formed a joint venture company, Bengal EMTA Coal Mines Ltd, with the state-owned West Bengal Power Development Corporation (WBPDCL) and Durgapur Projects Ltd (DPL).

The decision has come at a hefty loss as the government is losing Rs 530 for each tonne of coal it is supplies to Bakreswar Thermal Power Project. The only consolation is the 15 per cent dividend from the net profit that EMTA gives to its state-owned partners — WBPDCL and DPL. According to an agreement between the state government and the EMTA, the WBPDCL buys coal at a price which is 19.5 per cent less than that of Coal India Limited (CIL) notified price. At present, the notified price of the CIL coal is Rs 1,100 per tonne. So, the price of the EMTA coal works out to be nearly Rs 880 per tonne.

But herein lies the rub. Had the government retained the exclusive rights on the mines and opted for contract mining, the cost of coal, including transportation charges, would not have been more than Rs 350 per tonne at present rates. According to WBPDCL Chairman S Mahapatra, cost of coal accounts for nearly 70 per cent of the total power generation cost. He added the total requirement of the state-owned power generation company is nearly 20 million tonne a year, of which 4 million tonne comes from the Bengal EMTA. Had WBDCL been in a position to acquire this 4 million tonne at Rs 350 per tonne, it would have inevitably lowered the power generation cost, which at present is Rs 2 and translates to Rs 3.35 when distribution cost is added.

State power secretary Sunil Mitra said the government has been thinking of fixing a new rate, but at the same time admitted that the process has not been initiated as yet. According to Mitra, the current price reflects the investments EMTA has made for acquiring the mines, prospecting the blocks, giving relief and creating transport infrastructure. EMTA insiders said the company, still unlisted, had never been clear with its financials, although it has huge plans in power business.

Trinamool bags Nandigram, CPI(M) and Congress retained Para and Sujapur



Para in Purulia abutting the Bankura border registered a big win for CPI (M) and Left Front. Minati (‘Minu’) Bauri from a low-wage working class family ran away victorious over her nearest combined opposition representative candidate of the divisive Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM) by a margin of 40, 787 votes (over 35, 275 of margin polled in the last elections of 2006) increasing the CPI (M) vote percentage as well from 52.60 to 55.10). The combined votes pooled together by the opposition went down from 55917 to 51843. The BJP and the Trinamul-supported PDS candidates saw their deposit forfeited. What was that, again, and loudly please, this time, about the ‘adivasis-leave-the-side-of-the-Bengal-CPI (M)’ cant heard raucously in the corporate media, especially of late?

A skilful Party organiser, and a person who ran with firm efficiency the Mangalda-Moutod GP as its Gram Panchayat Pradhan, Minu is also an enthusiastic leader and organiser of the local units of the DYFI. Young men and women were expectedly in the accepted kind of celebratory mood. They shouldered up the wining candidate who had a visibly worn, Red shawl wrapped with care around her shoulders, and as plentiful swathes of Red gulal were thrown in the hastily-swerving wintry air of the bright western Bengal afternoon, smoke-screening the rural locale, Lal salaams, and lusty victory cheers were heard-- in Santhali as well as in Bengali and Hindi.

As far as Nandigram, was concerned, Biman Basu, state secretary of the Bengal, had earlier noted that a sub-terrain terror ran through the entire constituency. He was subsequently proved correct as masses of voters were forced to vote for the Trinamuli candidate or were kept away from the polling stations-- through an exercise of brute might.

The Trinamuli goondas took full advantage of the unfortunate fact that nearly all the GPs are now, post-rural polls, under their onerous anti-social control of the worst kind of the Trinamul Congress. Biman Basu spoke about probing into every aspect of the polls for all three seats in the weeks and months to come. He was speaking from Kochi where he was in the midst of attending a central committee meeting of the CPI (M).

This brings us to the third seat in the fray – at Sujapore in Maldah. Here, the combined right-wing candidate, the daughter of the standing MLA whose demise had brought about the present election to the seat, retained the seat for the Pradesh Congress, and thus maintained the family’s hold over the seat. Earlier, the seat had been held by the deceased MLAs’ brother and one-time central government minister A B A Ghani Khan Chaudhury.
About the results Left Front Chairman Biman Basu (now in Kochi) to call for “introspection and learning.” Mr. Biman Basu said the party would seriously review the Nandigram poll outcome. Mr. Basu, who is also a member of the CPI(M) Polit Bureau, said the party would go deep into the results to see whether there were any organisational lapses or whether the Left Front failed to counter the electoral tactics of its rivals. He alleged that the Trinamool unleashed a rein of terror in Nandigram and that people were not able to cast their votes without fear.

‘We have reason to be ashamed’ : AMARTYA SEN

The global slowdown will further hit India’s economy and the worst sufferers will be its burgeoning underprivileged, Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen tells TUSHA MITTAL

What are the principal challenges India faces in the new year?

There are traditional challenges and new ones. The traditional challenges include keeping our democracy functioning. The [general] election is coming; it is very important that there be wide participation. It is also important that our concerns about secularism, security, economic progress, and the removal of poverty and illiteracy be kept in focus. Election is a good time to focus on these issues rather than one caste battling another.

Another old challenge is removing deprivation. Huge numbers of people suffer from chronic hunger, malnutrition, lack of schooling and healthcare. Political parties should focus more on these issues. When I gave a lecture in Parliament last August, I mentioned that I am sometimes disappointed that the pressure on the government comes more on issues that concern a few people, like the Indo- US nuclear deal or rise in petrol prices, and the huge deprivation of the underprivileged masses tends to get neglected.

The global economic crisis is another new challenge: it has not yet affected India as much as it might in 2009. I will expect the growth rate, which has already fallen from nine percent to seven percent, may decline to five or six percent. Although five-to-six percent growth is not bad progress, the important thing is that underprivileged Indians will suffer greatly from that slowdown.

You’ve said that over-reliance on markets contributed to the meltdown. Has this prompted rethink on the idea of free market?

In India’s case this is more complicated. Over-reliance is in the context of the US. There, the supervisory role of the state was pretty much abandoned. Irresponsible financial actions like sub-prime mortgage lending were not regulated. There was no regulation on derivative markets either, so some of these terrible toxic loans and assets were immediately sold to others. So you can’t even find out who did how much wrong to whom.In our case, if anything, there has been under-reliance on markets in some areas. This is true for many industries and for the service sectors: tourism, for example. I still haven’t stayed in a comfortable government hotel. Someday, I hope I will. But the disastrous thing on the other side has been premature privatisation of the healthcare and education system. This is complicated by bad delivery of primary school education and healthcare by the state. That means richer kids go to private schools or private healthcare, and there is no pressure on the government coming from powerful quarters. We have to make sure the public sector rises to the challenge so that the private sector does not have this role to play.The reliance on the private sector for elementary education is very unfortunate, but we can’t just say the private sector is the evil. It is part of the problem, but the bigger problem is the public sector’s deficiency which makes the private sector flourish. That needs to change. If you look at any country in Europe, or the US, Canada, Japan, South Korea, all these countries have become literate on the basis of state-provided primary education for all. And with the exception of the US, they have provided basic universal healthcare through the state system to all.

What will it take to make this a reality, since most policies now seem skewed in favour of corporate India?

That’s true. Because corporate India absorbs a lot of interest and people, things seem ill-balanced. Elections and media criticism give the public an opportunity to raise these issues. But, we need not only periodic raising of important issues every five years, we have to constantly question the terrible delivery of basic education and healthcare. If we agitate for better healthcare and more governmental concern, we will get the responsible politics we deserve. We have to make it clear that politicians recognise there is something at stake for them in terms of their performance.

Many believe the benefits of capitalism and globalisation haven’t trickled down. Yet, there is a view that access to global markets, international trade, and investment will bring jobs, which will gradually remove poverty. Is there a danger in this assumption?

This in itself is not enough to get India out of poverty, but it is a useful thing and it is important. No one policy is going to be enough, and there is never much point in asking which one — exactly one — should be done. We have to do not one thing but ten different things. And making use of the global market is certainly a very important part of the balance basket. I think making good policy decisions on that is important. We should think about a future in which the market and the state both have a role to play.

What is your opinion of the concept of special economic zones (SEZ)?

I have by and large been opposed to SEZs. It is important when incomes are growing for public revenue to flow in, and when you do SEZs, no public revenue flows in because you give them tax exemption. I also think SEZs can breed corruption. The oddity is that the argument for doing these things is the market economy. But then why do you do an SEZ, which is really state-based favouritism. I think we should make better use of the market and the global economy, bearing in mind that it needs to be supplemented by well organised public services.

You’ve said more funds should be spent on education, healthcare and tackling poverty. Yet, most government programmes which appear to have social relevance (NREGS, the farmer debt relief package) seem to backfire. What needs to happen to have tangible results on the ground?

I don’t think that there are no tangible results. If you look at the NREGS scheme, there are a huge number of problems but there have also been successes. Lots of needy people have got jobs and made good use of their income. Intensive child development schemes have been successful in states like Tamil Nadu, but not in many others. We have to see why it is so mixed. The lack of funding is certainly a problem and is the most important issue to be addressed. But the delivery system has to be improved and I think it is very important to expand the organisational network. The Pratichi Trust, which I was fortunate to be able to set up when the Nobel Prize came my way in 1998, has been particularly concerned with the delivery of primary education and healthcare. We found big neglects there. It was our analysis that the unions could make a difference by helping to make their workers on the ground, teachers and doctors in this case, more accountable and responsible. We have been working with the primary teachers’ association in West Bengal (ABPTA), the largest of the primary school unions. Our recent research findings show an increase in attendance. For example, in my district Birbhum in West Bengal, attendance has gone up from about 50 percent to 80 percent. There has been a similar increase in other districts.I think we need a change in the organisational presumptions in India. The public sector is terrible in some fields, like agriculture. But in others, like the railways, the public sector has a huge amount to offer, and performances have been exceptionally good. In healthcare, education and child integrated development, there is a real problem to be addressed. I think we need much more cooperation with the unions, and that requires rethinking, both on the part of the union, not just to think of the interest of their membership but also of the community and the country, but also on the other side. Many people are so suspicious of unions, they don’t think anything good can ever come out of them. We have to trust the unions more and they have to work in a way that they make themselves trustworthy.

You are known to be closely aligned with the Left. Is the party living up to the ideals it claims to represent?

The Left parties should have been more focused on deprivation, illiteracy and lack of healthcare, rather than the Indo-US nuclear deal, and against public sector reform. I think the basic issues of poverty should receive much more attention. I belong to the Left. I would like them to be more concerned with the poorest sections of the community and avoid divisions that make the voice of the underdog weak.

You mentioned concerns about secularism. What is your assessment of the success of secularism in India?

I think secularism in India is a success, but it requires constant vigilance. It is often said that the price of liberty is eternal vigilance; the price of functioning secularism is also constant vigilance. I don’t think secularism in India has failed because we haven’t had major communal violence since the dark days of Gujarat 2002. Even the identification of terrorists in Mumbai as Islamist terrorists has not led to the intensification or the germination of Hindu- Muslim hostility. I think that is a tribute to Indian secularism. The weakness of Indian secularism can be seen in the targeting of Christians in Orissa, and even though it hasn’t reached the level of barbarity that we saw in 2002, it requires immediate vigilance and eradication. Not only because it can escalate into bigger violence but also because whatever small violence is taking place against a minority community is utterly intolerable in a secular society.

Despite Gujarat 2002, we saw the resurgence of Chief Minister Narendra Modi. In that sense, how relevant is secularism for the average Indian?

We have to be careful in understanding the impact of the Gujarat violence. Certainly, Modi returned in the election, but the BJP lead was cut in the 2004 general election. If you look at the rest of India, along with dissatisfaction with the growing inequality, the other most important factor in making the BJP-led NDA lose its position is its being tarnished with the image of what happened in Gujarat. I think the BJP has lost ground in being able to claim to be a national party, equally solicitous of the interests of all Indians, Hindus, Muslim, Christians or Jains. I think that has not helped them in the recent state elections. This may continue to be a factor in the coming general election. So I wouldn’t say that the Indian electorate took no notice of Gujarat 2002.

What is your vision for India?

I hope it is a country where freedoms expand and people don’t suffer from deprivation, and where we do not have shameful levels of under nourishment, illiteracy, and lack of healthcare. What makes it even worse is that while there are reasons for being ashamed, often people don’t seem to be so ashamed. We want to get to a situation where we have no reason to be ashamed and reason to have some pride. If we can engage, use reason and our concern about the life of other Indians, we will be able to do it very well.

WRITER'S EMAIL: tusha@tehelka.com

From Tehelka Magazine, Vol 6, Issue 2, Dated Jan 17, 2009