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

West Bengal legislators demand fresh probe into Rizwan death

New Delhi, Jan 9: A delegation of West Bengal legislators from various political parties Friday submitted a memorandum to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), demanding re-investigation into the Rizwan-ur Rehman death case. The delegation met the inspector general of police (IGP) heading the CBI’s Kolkata zone and submitted the memorandum, signed by about 50 legislators.

The legislators also alleged bias on the part of CBI Deputy Superintendent of Police (DSP) P.S. Bose, posted at Special Crime Branch, Kolkata. “The CBI IGP promised them that the agency would thoroughly examine the issues raised in the memorandum with an open mind and will take appropriate action,” said a CBI statement.

The CBI statement clarified that Bose, arrested Dec 29 last year while taking a bribe, was not the investigating officer in the Rizwan-ur Rehman case. Rehman, a computer graphic designer, who married the daughter of a prominent industrialist against her family’s consent, was found dead in mysterious circumstances in September 2007.

“The trap against Bose was laid on the complaint received against him in the Anti-Corruption Headquarters of the CBI. The CBI branch concerned took action against Bose as per provisions of law,” the statement said.

Tripartite meeting to reopen Dunlop

Kolkata, Jan 9: A tripartite meeting between the management of the Dunlop (India) Limited, the trade union of the company and the West Bengal government was held today at the state Labour Commissioner's office in an effort to reopen the Shahgunj plant of the company.Senior company officials were present at the meeting convened at the behest or the labour commissioner, a company release here said.

"We reiterate that we are keen to re-open the plant at the earliest,"the statement said. Labour union leader Dipankar Ray said that it was decided at the meeting that the company would submit a proposal to the union on January 14.

Production at Dunlop facility remained suspended since November 30 after the management of the company sought financial assistance from the West Bengal government in the form of loan and waiver of sales tax. Dunlop had asked for a Rs 100 crore loan from the West Bengal Industrial Development Corporation as a bridge loan to keep the plant going.

Court to monitor autorickshaw ban in West Bengal

Kolkata, Jan 9 : The Calcutta High Court Friday directed the West Bengal government to file a progress report on how it was implementing the ban on two-stroke autorickshaws in the city.A two-member division bench of the high court, comprising Chief Justice S.S Nijjar and Justice Pinaki Chandra Ghosh, ordered the state government to submit a report every 15 days, which would be scrutinised from time to time.

It said the state government’s request for extension of time till July 31, 2009 will be considered in the next hearing. The division bench directed that till further orders no auto rickshaw with valid document and registration would be seized. Earlier, the high court issued an order July last year to ban commercial vehicles registered before Jan 1, 1993, from Kolkata and its outskirts.
It said that all auto-rickshaws, irrespective of their date of registration, will have to convert to either compressed natural gas (CNG) or liquefied petroleum gas (LPG). The order was to be implemented by Dec 31, 2008, in the Kolkata Metropolitan Area, which includes parts of North and South 24-Parganas, Howrah and Hooghly.

The court issued the order after the state environment department had placed before the high court a notification (in July 2008) for freeing the city of severe automobile pollution. It is estimated that around 80,000 auto-rickshaws, 24,000 taxis and over 8,000 buses and mini-buses would be affected by the implementation of the court order.

Bauls come together in Kolkata to showcase their music

Kolkata, Jan 9: Over 40 ‘Bauls’ - mystic minstrels of West Bengal - came together here from across the state to participate in a three-day baul music festival. Baul, which means divinely possessed, is one of the few widely-known folk musical genres of Bengal sung by bards known by the same name. The songs they sing are known as Baul-gaan (Baul songs).

The festival titled ‘Shikawr’ (roots) kicked off Friday evening and is being organised by state-based real estate group Bengal Shelter at ‘Mohor Kunjo’, a citizen’s park in south Kolkata.‘It is an attempt to restore baul music that is on verge on extinction like Punjabi Sufi music due to commercialisation of these songs. This is the first time so many bauls have come together for a cause,’ Amitabha Basu, one of the initiators of the fest, told IANS Friday evening.

‘Baul music is not only West Bengal’s, but one of India’s oldest folk music. But the present generation has no idea of what original baul music is all about. Instead, they distort the songs by remixing them and singing them against electronic instruments.’ Basu said. ‘The bauls here will tell us what their music is truly all about. They will perform with hand-made instruments like ’sarinda’ (a crude form of violin made of bamboo), ‘ektara’ (one-stringed instrument) and ‘dotara’ (two-stringed instrument, a crude form of little lute). I am sure none of our youths even know these names, let aside playing them.’

Basu said the idea of organising such a fest came from a French youth. ‘A few months back, I met a French youth at a fair in Shantiniketan and asked him about their folk music. He said French folk music exists no more as it has been devoured by commercial music. It was scary…and as a result, over 40 bauls from the remotest corners of the state have come together to showcase their genre of music and save their art from extinction,’ Basu said.

The bauls have come from remote villages of Bankura, Birbhum, Nadia, Purulia, Jalpaiguri and Cooch Behar districts to perform their various types of music that includes ‘Bhawaiya’ songs, ‘Fakiri gaan’ and ‘Jhumur’.

Ashim suggests more legal outlets to curb hooch menace

KOLKATA, 9 January, 2009: Excise and finance minister Ashim Dasgupta has a novel way of addressing the hooch menace that is on the rise in the state. He has suggested the setting up of legal outlets, whether of country liquor or India made foreign liquor (IMFL) to meet the increasing demand for alcohol.  Of course, the timing has raised questions about whether this is just a ploy to increase the number of shops. 

Dasgupta, however, fished out figures to indicate that the number of country liquor and IMFL shops per lakh population is only four in the state. This is far less than that of many other states. For Karnataka has 41, Maharashtra 14, Andhra Pradesh 10, Tamil Nadu 11 in West Bengal there are only 4 shops per lakh population. The minister met excise officials and home secretary Ardhendu Sen to chalk out ways in which to fight the illegal liquor menace by "meeting the demand in the state so that it does not lead to illegal trade". 

He said the price of country liquor had to be increased by 8 per cent since the price of the main ingredient molasses has increased 80 times. "If the price of molasses comes down, the price of liquor would also come down," Dasgupta assured. Ahead of the polls, the state government has even planned to provide alternative employment to the poor involved in the illegal trade. While he did not want to disclose the demand and supply figures, he simply said West Bengal would deal with the demand by allowing what is permissible. 

The government has chalked out a two-pronged strategy to win over the people against the menace of illicit liquor trade. On the one hand, it has decided to nab the culprits and destroy the illegal liquor centres and on the other, provide job opportunities to help the poor quit the trade.