December 11, 2011

Isolate ‘Maoists’ Politically for Enduring Peace in Jangal Mahal

By Nilotpal Basu

ULTIMATELY, the truth has come out. Not that it was not known;  but now that it has come straight from the, so to say, horse’s mouth;  the chief minister of West Bengal and the Trinamool Congress supremo has eventually lashed out at the ‘Maoists’ for their heinous crime of engineering the Ganeshwari Express tragedy  which took the toll of 148 innocent lives. Contrary to what she has been claiming all this while that the CPI(M) and the Left was responsible for the tragedy to defame her and the Railway ministry – she has ultimately conceded that it was clearly the handiwork of the ‘Maoists’. 

What is the provocation for this belated ‘discovery’? Two activists of the Trinamool Congress had been gunned down by a ‘Maoist’ squad in a hamlet on the foothills of Ajodhya in Purulia district – an integral part of the jangal mahal area in West Bengal which continues to remain infested by ‘Maoist’ activity. There is no doubt that these were murders most vile and all right thinking people would condemn these with all the strength that one can muster.  The bodies of these hapless victims were brought to Kolkata and in front of the statue of Mahatma Gandhi – the `apostle of peace’ – that the chief minister blurted out her ‘pearls of wisdom’.     

The travails of the TMC and its maverick supremo are not only bizarre as one would think. It is at the same time extremely sinister. The growth of the ‘Maoists’ – obviously, not in terms of popular support but its depredations and mindless violence in the districts adjoining the Jharkhand and Orissa borders – was quite strange. Any avid reading of the history of Left adventurism in the country makes one to come to an interesting conclusion. While Naxalbari was the cradle of the Left adventurist movement in the country and the CPI(M) and  the Left suffered most due to its violence in the late sixties and early seventies, the movement completely petered out, particularly after the Left Front assumed office in West Bengal in 1977.  The agrarian reforms and the protection and consolidation of the democratic rights of the working people completely isolated the Naxalites in the state.  The resumption of their activities in early parts of the first decade of the new century started as armed incursions from Jharkhand initially and later on from Orissa. The thickly forested jungles on the borders of these states provided the natural cover, as well as, the strategic base that the ‘Maoists’ needed to move on to West Bengal. 

The Left had from the very beginning, maintained that the ‘Maoist’ movement cannot be treated merely as a challenge to law and order.  Their involvement in these forest fringe areas was not because of their compassion for the poor and the tribals who suffered from locational disadvantage and consequent comparative lack of development.  Despite this, the agrarian reforms and other benefits of decentralisation had expanded social sector development.  It is because of this, the Left had always been politically strong in these areas.  Premised on these experiences, the Left, therefore, argued for facing the challenge of ‘Maoist’ violence through a three pronged response; first, on the question of targeted socio-economic development, secondly on the question of political-ideological offensive to isolate them from the people- and finally, based on these two, to initiate administrative actions of the security forces that would finally be successful in containing the violence.

As opposed to this, the central government had always pitched for all out administrative confrontation.  The home minister, P Chidambaram, the fountainhead of such an exclusively confrontationist approach even mooted the idea of deploying the military and the air force to snuff out the ‘Maoists’. 

However, the maverick TMC supremo was totally opposed to the very idea of taking on the ‘Maoists’.  Because she understood that in order to undermine and weaken the Left in these areas which have traditionally been the bastion of the Left, the ‘Maoists’ could prove to be her hatchet men.  The ‘Maoists’ – the opportunists that they are – found these to be extremely convenient.  Their complete ideological bankruptcy and penchant for military strategy created conditions for the coming together of these two forces. West Bengal’s recent history – from the ‘Maoists’ involvement in the Nandigram agitation and the present West Bengal chief minister’s open dalliance with the ‘Maoists’ in Lalgarh - the alliance was eventually made official.  The media savvy ‘Maoist’ Polit Bureau member Kishanji announced from behind his masked face that the ‘Maoists’ would love to see the TMC supremo as the next chief minister of West Bengal in an interview to Ananda Bazar Patrika before elections. 

This was music to her ears.  This made her to claim that there are no ‘Maoists’ in West Bengal.  And, she was not even acknowledging the killings of hundreds of CPI(M) and Left activists and leaders who were being snuffed out by these ‘Maoist’ marauders.  And, she did everything possible to politically delegitimise the operation of the state and central joint security forces to protect the life and livelihood of innocent citizens who were at the receiving end of the mindless ‘Maoist’ violence. 

The complicity was so complete that while the ‘Maoists’ had hijacked a train, the Rajdhani Express, the Railways under her charge did not even mention the ‘Maoist’ involvement in the complaint that the department filed.  And, finally, came the shocking allegation in the wake of the Gyaneshwari tragedy. Not only did she claim that these gruesome deaths of the Ganeshwari passengers were not the result of ‘Maoist’ depredation but actually they have been done by the CPI(M) and the Left to discredit the Railway Ministry! The intellectuals – the `civil society’ her close band of trumpeters for `political change’ in fact went a step further.  They actually called a press conference on the eve of a crucial municipal election in Kolkata and directly charged the CPI(M) of engineering the tragedy.  These intellectuals – of whom some are now even part of the cabinet of the present West Bengal government – justified their position by claiming that ‘Maoists’ did not explicitly take the responsibility for the incident. 

Now that the TMC supremo has assumed the chief minister’s office, she has to reconcile with the harsh cold reality. She thought that the zeal with which the ‘Maoists’ had worked overtime to see her in the office that she holds today would continue to do so even after the objective has been secured.  But, as we know, the ‘Maoists’ show extreme opportunism in siding with this or that bourgeois political party for carrying on with violent methods to physically eliminate all political opposition.  The ‘Maoists’ clearly had an agenda that they would use the TMC to ensure the physical elimination of the CPI(M) and the Left  to facilitate their own physical stranglehold over a region which had remained a bastion of the Left.


But, now the chickens have come home to roost.  The latest dramatic turn of events saw the felling of that very ‘Maoist’ leader who once wanted to anoint the TMC supremo as the incumbent chief minister of West Bengal.  This is the real irony.  The operation of the joint security forces which was held back for almost five months had to be ultimately allowed since the ‘Maoists’ were not sparing the TMC functionaries once they had been able to regroup with the relief that the new government had provided.  The process of the so-called negotiations which was bound to fail because of the pan Indian nature of the ‘Maoist’ activity also further emboldened them. 

It is in this background that the gun battle ensured in the forests of Burisole which has by now become a household name – as the site which marked the elimination of Kishanji.  In a way, this was inevitable.  Far from being a revolutionary movement, which the ‘Maoists’ claim to lead, apparently he found himself thoroughly isolated and encircled – that is what the security forces had claimed. 

But strangely, neither the chief minister nor any of her top ranking officials from the police or the general administration had come out with any authentic version over the sequence of events which led to the elimination of Kishanji immediately after the announcement of the incident. More than anybody else, it is their supporters – particularly those sections of liberal persuasion – some of them even sympathetic to the ‘Maoist’ cause have come out quite sharply against the same government and the security forces for having done what they did. 

In doing this, they seem to have taken a leaf out of chief minister Mamata Banerjee’s book of records. She did exactly this in questioning the elimination of Azad – the spokesman of the ‘Maoists’. She had actually demanded enquiry into Azad’s `murder’ not only outside but also in the parliament itself. In fact, directed by the court, an inquiry is still going on about this incident.

Now that Kishanji has been eliminated, the same charges are being leveled.  It is being alleged that the security forces had him in custody and this amounts to a `cold blooded murder of a prisoner in custody’.  It is now for the state government to clarify the real course of development transparently.  Rule of law would require that of her government.

However, in a public meeting recently, the chief minister has claimed that the security forces had encircled Kishanji for three continuous days.  The forces had also made an announcement over a public address system that he would be allowed a safe way out . But according to her, he did not respond positively and fired back.  This is what led to the armed confrontation which saw her one time `well wisher’ dead.


The convergence of purpose which brought the TMC and the ‘Maoists’ together to eliminate the Left – does no longer exist.  The functional alliance appears to have come unstuck.  And, therefore, this belated admission over Gyneshwari Express tragedy and this renewed restoration of the joint security forces’ operation leading to the elimination of Kishanji. 

But the tenuous exercise to try and balance the relationship between these two sinister forces had continued for the last few months since the new government in West Bengal had assumed office, now seems to be finally over.  The group of interlocutors who had been officially appointed by the state government to carry out the discussions with the ‘Maoists’ have finally thrown up their hands. And, in the statement issued recently expressing their inability to carry on the process, they have squarely blamed the state government for having killed Kishanji `in cold blood’.

The course of the sinister alliance has really come to complete its vicious circle.  Sadly, the TMC and some of their grassroot level activists who are also poor and vulnerable have also now come to suffer from the mindless violence of the ‘Maoists’. 

But the chief minister is not prepared to accept the reality. While she has lambasted the ‘Maoists’ and their liberal sympathisers who don the mantle of  the human rights organisations for failing to condemn the death and killings of hapless victims of the mindless ‘Maoist’ violence – even going to the extent of pointing out that a large number of activists of the Left had  suffered – she failed to concede that she herself had shown similar proclivities.

To compound her almost criminal negligence in shielding the ‘Maoists’ – she is actually still maintaining that the CPI(M) and the ‘Maoists’ are in league.  This is not withstanding the fact that after the Lok Sabha elections alone almost 250 CPI(M) activists and leaders mostly poor and tribals laid down their lives in the course of taking on the political and ideological challenge of the ‘Maoists’.  But still there is time. The  threat that ‘Maoist’ violence poses to the life and livelihood of the most downtrodden sections of the society in the remotest jungles of West Bengal can only be repulsed by the joining of forces. The unity of all political parties who believe in the rule of law and securing life of the people must act together to isolate the ‘Maoists’.  It is the only enduring way to establish peace.   And, elimination of a single individual – however important he may be – cannot mark the end to the mindless violence which the ‘Maoists’ had been perpetrating.  The restoration of legitimate political activities of all political forces in the affected areas of jangal mahal area is the only rational course to achieve that objective.

People’s Democracy, December 04, 2011

Mass Civil Disobedience by LEFT FRONT in Kolkata

THOUSANDS of people assembled at Rani Rashmoni Road in Kolkata on November 28 to protest against the anti-people policies of the Trinamool and Congress run central and state governments; against price rise; against the reign of terror in West Bengal and the undemocratic ordinance issued by Mamata Banerjee government on education. Streams of people gathered in downtown area in large processions. After the protest meeting, more than 6000 people courted arrested led by the Left Front chairman, Biman Basu, the leader of the opposition in West Bengal assembly, Surjyakanta Mishra, and various other leaders of the Left Front. The leaders appealed to the rest of the gathering to refrain from going forward.

Before courting arrest, the Left Front chairman said in his speech that prices are continuously increasing because of the faulty policies of the central and the state governments. A systematic attack is taking place on democracy in West Bengal with the government trying to take back through undemocratic means the hard won rights of the people of West Bengal. 

At the same time, a reign of terror has been unleashed in the state whereby 48 Left activists have been killed in the recent past. It is in protest against such anti-people policies of the government that the Left Front has taken up the movement of mass civil disobedience. In his speech, Biman Basu also stated that the Trinamool Congress has always supported the policies of the central government both during the NDA as well as UPA rule. In the case of increase of petrol and fertilizer prices, the Trinamool was present in the cabinet meetings in which the decisions were taken.  Therefore they must also take the blame of the anti-people policies of the central government.

In his speech, the leader of the opposition, Surjyakanta Mishra said that the state government is resorting to illegal decisions sitting in the Writers’ Building. They are trying to curb the rights of the panchayats. On the other hand political opponents are being killed and farmers are being evicted from their lands. Surjyakanta Mishra also said that the chief minister broke all laws when she personally went to a police station to release supporters of her party. In protest against all these, the Left Front has taken to the streets and will continue the movement for furthering the interests of the people.

CPI state secretary Manjukumar Majumdar, RSP leader Kshiti Goswami, Jayanta Ray of Forward Block were among others who addressed the meeting.

The mass civil disobedience movement was the culmination of many such programmes which were taken up in the districts. The Left Front and Kisan Sabha have organised mass protest actions throughout the state. All sections of the people participated in large numbers in the call for civil disobedience. The central programme in Kolkata was in fact the biggest such mobilisation after the assembly elections in the state.

People’s Democracy, December 04, 2011

November 12, 2011

UPA's most vociferous critic may script her own political decline in the state

West Bengal's Madame NO

By Aditi Phadnis / New Delhi, Business Standard, November 12, 2011, 0:28 IST

Later this month, Mamata Banerjee will have been chief minister of West Bengal for six months. Time for a balance sheet?

First, all the things she’s managed to get done — only because they’re easier to count. She’s taken some positive steps to revive the glory of the Presidency College of Kolkata, the institution that has given India some of its best thinkers. She’s managed to defuse the Gorkhaland crisis by offering a tripartite agreement, paving the way for the setting up of the Gorkhaland Territorial Administration (GTA) — an elected body for the Darjeeling hills.

But most of all, she has managed to establish a reputation as the most vociferous critic of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) within the UPA.

When the Centre increased the price of LPG earlier this year, Banerjee first resisted (“the Centre did not take us into confidence…” and so on). Then she took on a mien of martyred indignation (“the state government will bear the burden of the increase in LPG prices”) unconcerned about the fact that the state government’s finances are in no shape to take on the burden. She threatened to withdraw from the UPA over the current round of petrol price increase, only to recant later.

A Union minister has referred to Banerjee as a compulsive populist. It is hard to dispute this description.

Take her government’s attitude towards the price of electricity. West Bengal is considered a role model in power sector reform. The West Bengal State Electricity Board (WBSEB) was trifurcated as part of power sector reforms that began in 1985. In 2005-06, the state also corporatised transmission and distribution. There are three power companies in the state now, carved out of the electricity board that together showed a profit of over Rs 300 crore for 2010-11. The government did not privatise: and those employed by power companies (30,000 or so employees) are the only ones to get their salaries regularly because they don’t depend on the state government.

But things can change very fast. Demand for power has been rising and so has the price of coal in a state that depends mostly on thermal power. With the massive electoral victory in her pocket, Banerjee could have increased the cost of electricity in the first week of assuming power without any difficulty. Instead, after she took over as chief minister, one of her first meetings was with the power secretary and her bottom line was: electricity prices will not be increased. In Kolkata, the only area where a private sector entity provides power, the cost of electricity was increased in April 2011 in sync with the cost of coal, and it is likely to increase again. In the summer of 2010, West Bengal had a peak demand shortage of between 500 Mw and 700 Mw, which is expected to go up to between 800 Mw and 1000 Mw this summer. A perfectly healthy sector is going to be driven to sickness: because Banerjee doesn’t want to become unpopular.

But what she doesn’t realise is her troops are making her extremely unpopular. Somen Mitra, a Trinamool Congress (TMC) MP, took the unprecedented step of bypassing his own party to complain to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in a letter about the activities of chit fund operators in Parliament — an important MP from his own party is a big chit fund “entrepreneur” and was admitted to the TMC by Banerjee only recently.

The biggest problem (although it is not clear if she sees it as such) is: Banerjee is TMC and TMC is Banerjee. Take her handling of the Maoist problem in the Junglemahal region. Subhendu Adhikari, described by TMC watchers as the man of the future, organised the TMC’s victory in east Midnapore. Adhikari ensured the Left was routed in this area using his supporters, but also the rather more persuasive powers of the gun. He is considered intelligent, popular and ruthless. In Banerjee’s dictionary this spells threat. So, she bypassed him and asked another leader Mukul Roy to handle the Junglemahal problem. Roy made no headway. So now Adhikari is back.

The thing is: no one knows who is in and who’s out. So the impulse is to ensure there is enough for dinner tomorrow, for who knows what might happen at breakfast today?

For the moment, Banerjee has little to fear from the parliamentary opposition. The Left Front’s disarray is embarrassing. Ill-health dogs former Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharya, especially ahead of party meetings. The Left trade unionists are lethargic, missing even the opportunity to mobilise state government employees who are now beginning to get annoyed at the fact that their DA has not been revised because the state government doesn’t have the money.

But the challenges are snapping at Banerjee’s heels. West Bengal will see panchayat elections in 2012. How will the TMC fare? Will these elections represent the first glimmers of a Left comeback?

If Banerjee goes on like this, she will be the one to have scripted it!       

Didi’s dadagiri: Storms thana, gets arrested partymen freed

By Madhuparna Das 

Posted online: Indian Express, Tue Nov 08 2011, 02:20 hrs

Kolkata : In an unprecedented intervention, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee stormed a Kolkata police station late last evening and forced the release of two members of her party arrested for rioting, arson and ransacking the police station about an hour earlier.

The police action came after the men — along with a mob of 300 — clashed with policemen from the Bhowanipore police station who had asked them not to burst high-decibel crackers late in the evening outside a cancer institute and a children’s hospital, and block both carriageways of S P Mukherjee Road, a major south Kolkata thoroughfare.

The men were part of a boisterous Jagaddhatri Puja immersion party. The puja is controlled and managed by one Jagannath Sau, a close associate of Baban Banerjee, one of Mamata Banerjee’s brothers.

Jagannath Sau has six cases — including extortion and cases under the Arms Act — against him, said the officer-in-charge of Bhowanipore police station. Sau was present at the spot — as was Baban Banerjee. Sau allegedly supplies building material to local Congress and Trinamool leaders and men engaged in real estate promotion.

Chief Minister Banerjee — who rushed to Bhowanipore police station from her Harish Chatterjee Street residence nearby — reportedly shouted at Kolkata Police Commissioner R K Pachnanda, Divisional Deputy Commissioner (South) D P Singh, and the head of the police station for stopping the immersion party. The chief minister also has charge of the state home department, and the police report directly to her.

Trouble began at around 9.30 pm. Local club Bhowanipore Players Association was taking its Jagaddhatri idol for immersion in a procession that was led by a loud band from the Sebak Sangha club, which is located at 14/1 Rani Sankari Lane, very close to where Banerjee lives.

A DJ was playing “masala Hindi numbers”, witnesses said; and both carriageways of S P Mukherjee Road were blocked as club members set off loud crackers right in front of Chittaranjan Cancer Institute.

A police request to club members not to disrupt traffic and disturb patients quickly degenerated into an argument, and the policemen were pelted with stones and bottles. Police retaliated with a lathicharge, and the mob entered the Bhowanipore police station, destroyed property and tried to set fire to several vehicles parked outside the police station. Private vehicles on the road were attacked as well.

The chief minister arrived on the scene at around 10.45 pm — apparently walking all the way after receiving news that some of her party members and supporters had been attacked by police in what is a Trinamool stronghold. She allegedly rebuked the Bhowanipore police station OC for having obstructed the Puja procession, and got the police to release two men who had been arrested for the rioting.

Tapas Saha and Sambhu Sau were allowed to go without cases being registered against them, sources said. No case has been registered against the procession organisers either. Officially police denied having taken anyone into custody.

Saha works full-time at Banerjee’s Kalighat party office. He is secretary of the Bhowanipore club, and has recently got a job with the Indian Railways. He was reportedly taken to hospital with injuries on his legs.

Sambhu Sau said, “Police arrested me and Tapas, threw us in the lock-up and began beating us. We are members of Trinamool Congress. The police refused to release us even after our leaders, Dr Nirmal Majhi, Dulal Sen, and Minister for Urban Development Firhad Hakim reached the police station. They relented only after Didi arrived. Didi is God to us. Didi arranged for my treatment and sent Tapas to hospital.”

Ratan Malakar, Trinamool councillor from Ward No. 73 where the club is located, said, “When our appeal to the police failed, Didi intervened. Her brother Baban Banerjee also reached the police station.”

Subhajeet Goon of Sebak Sangha club said, “After police told us to stop bursting crackers and playing loud music, we told them to take a look at our club banner and the address. Our club is located just beside Didi’s residence. But the officer started abusing. After that we could not control our rage.”

Goon added that Sebak Sangha members had gone to Banerjee’s home at around 10.30 pm to complain. “Didi did not waste time and rushed to the police station. Didi got our brothers released.”

D P Singh, DC (South), said, “We are yet to identify the people who ransacked the police station. We have started an inquiry. Some people were bursting loud crackers in front of the hospital and they were asked to stop doing that. In no time, they attacked our officers and the police station.”

An inquiry has been ordered into the alleged police failure, it was learnt from official sources.

Of threats and pressure tactics

By Marcus Dam

THE HINDU, November 5, 2011 01:22 IST  

Is the Trinamool Congress' reaction to the recent hike in petrol prices about its ‘tolerance' wearing thin or about fending off charges of complicity?

By threatening to pull out of the United Progressive Alliance government over the recent hike in petrol prices, the Trinamool Congress leadership is trying to wriggle out of a politically deleterious situation in which the Centre finds itself, as disaffection mounts over the spiralling prices of essential items.

Needless to say, the threat is being made from a position of strength, the Trinamool Congress being the second largest constituent of the UPA. If carried out, it could pull the rug from under the feet of the government.

Whether the threat will be carried out or not is, of course, another matter. But the Prime Minister is certainly in for some hard bargaining on his return from his overseas tour if the apple-cart is not to be upset. For, all such threats — by definition in political parlance — are, for all practical purposes, pressure tactics.

Under attack in recent times from both the Left parties and, albeit with less stridency, the Bharatiya Janata Party, for not speaking out against economic polices of the scam-tainted Congress-led government at the Centre, the Trinamool Congress has found in the fourth hike in petrol prices this year an opportunity to express its resentment over not being consulted by the Congress in matters of major consequence, despite being a constituent of the UPA.

And in one fell swoop, it would also invalidate claims by her political rivals that she, by being a silent spectator in the government, is apathetic to the problems of the common man buffeted by the rise in the prices of essential commodities.

That the Trinamool Congress is peeved over the Congress riding roughshod over it was made clear in the reminder by its chairperson and West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee that while a pullout by the party would result in the toppling of the government at the Centre, it enjoyed a majority on its own and was not dependant on the Congress to stay in power in West Bengal.

Doubtless, the Congress in West Bengal plays second fiddle to the Trinamool — a political liaison that has rarely been harmonious but has survived because of the Congress in New Delhi insisting that it has. One can already see some more disgruntled sections of the Congress in the State secretly delighting in Ms. Banerjee's most recent posturing.

“Somebody has to bell the cat. If we are outside the government, we can at least speak in the interests of the people,” Ms. Banerjee has remarked. But it would be politically na├»ve to assume that the rise in the prices of petroleum products, the growing rate of food inflation and the consequent burden on the common man are the only reasons for her grouse.

Ever since assuming power in May, she has been expressing her displeasure over the Centre for failing to provide her government with a special financial package that would bail the State economy out of the bankruptcy it has allegedly inherited. The issue dominates her rhetoric. Is the pullout threat also a pressure tactic for extracting from the Centre the financial assistance?

By her own admission, the government of which her party is a part, has been responsible for the rise in prices of petroleum products “eleven times in twelve months” which she feels is “intolerable.” This begs the question why the Trinamool Congress was not as assertive of its opposition to the price hikes then, the way it is now. If one goes by what Ms. Banerjee has to say, it is the party's “tolerance” which is now wearing thin.

Or is it that the Trinamool Congress is finding it difficult to fend off charges of complicity each time there has been a rise in prices and of pursing an economic line that is no different from that of the Congress? For that has been the argument of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), its principal adversary in West Bengal.

At least the threat of a pullout from the government and all the hype it generates could be designed to project the impression that the party is not just sympathetic to the common man's concerns but that its position in the government should be taken more seriously by the Congress.

After all, over the past two-and-a-half years “we have not even been given a room [for the party] in Parliament,” not to talk of “we not willing to accept the burden [price rise] being thrust on the people,” according to Ms. Banerjee.

And even before one can doubt the seriousness of intent, she pre-empts any questions that could be asked in reference to it. The Trinamool Congress is not “blackmailing or bargaining” as might be made out by some, Ms. Banerjee, who has always had a penchant for histrionics, has said. “Forgive us, but we have not done any wrong,” she says, her hands folded.

October 29, 2011

Why is WB CM Mamata Banerjee silent?

TIMES NOW, 29 Oct 2011, 0937 hrs IST, AGENCIES

30 infants have died in 72 hours but that has still not prompted West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee to come out and clarify on what her government is doing to stop babies from dying in government hospitals.

Thirteen newborns died in the Burdwan Medical College and four more at Kolkata's B C Roy Children's Hospital, which has witnessed a series of crib deaths, taking the toll in the two government hospitals in West Bengal to 30 on Friday.

Though the deaths have raised a question mark on the standard of healthcare in paediatric hospitals in the state, authorities claimed that it was not unusual.

Since Thursday, four babies died at the B C Roy Children's Hospital and 12 at the Burdwan Medical College and Hospital, which also saw a death yesterday. "The one-to-three day-old babies were underweight and suffering from jaundice, encephalitis and septicaemia," Burdwan Medical College and Hospital Deputy Superintendent Tapas Kumar Ghosh said.

Deputy Director of Medical Education Susanta Banerjee and Health Commissioner Dilip Ghosh were sent by Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee to the hospital.

Banerjee said that there was no medical negligence in the death of the babies as they were referred in a moribund stage and that one or two deaths occurred daily. He said that in two and half months the number of beds would be increased to 190 from the current 60.

The Deputy Medical Superintendent of the hospital said the doctors did their best to save the lives of the babies at the hospital where 160 infants were being treated against its capacity of 60 beds.

At the B C Roy Children's Hospital, another four babies died taking up the toll there to 17 in the last three days. "Four babies, referred to us in a critical condition, died since yesterday," its superintendent D Pal said. There was "nothing abnormal or unusual" in the death of babies, mostly below one month, Pal said, as they were admitted in extremely critical conditions.

Pal said on an average, five infant deaths occurred in the hospital of the daily admission of nearly 300, mostly referred by district hospitals.

Noting that the hospital was overburdened with patients referred from district hospitals, Pal maintained that the best of care was given to the babies admitted.

The health department earlier gave a clean chit to the B C Roy Children's Hospital after an internal inquiry. The Director of Medical Education said no lapse was found in the treatment of the babies, who were brought in a moribund state.

Sixteen more babies die in WB govt hospitals; toll 29

The Asian Age, 28 Oct, 2011

Four more babies died at Kolkata's B.C. Roy Children's Hospital, which has witnessed a series of crib deaths, besides 12 newborns in the Burdwan Medical College, taking the death toll in two government hospitals in West Bengal to 29 today.

Though the crib deaths have raised a question mark on the standard of medical care in paediatric hospitals in the state, hospital authorities claimed that it was 'not unusual'.

Twelve babies have died at the Burdwan Medical College and Hospital in Burdwan district and four at the B.C. Roy Children's Hospital here since yesterday, authorities said today.

"The one-to-three days old babies were underweight and suffering from jaundice, encephalitis and septicemia," Burdwan Medical College and Hospital Deputy Superintendent Tapas Kumar Ghosh said.

Doctors did their best to save the lives of the babies, but all were born with critical complaints at the hospital where 160 infants were being treated against its capacity of 60 beds, he said.

In Kolkata, at the B.C. Roy Children's Hospital, another four babies died taking up the toll there to 17 in the last three days.

"Four babies, referred to us in a critical condition, died in the hospital in the last 24 hours," its superintendent D Pal said.

There was 'nothing abnormal or unusual' in the death of babies, mostly below one month, Pal said, as they were admitted in an extremely critical condition.

Pal said on an average, five infant deaths occurred in the hospital of the daily admission of nearly 300, mostly referred by district hospitals.

Stating that the hospital was overburdened with patients referred from district hospitals, Pal maintained that the best of care was given to the babies admitted.

But The health department yesterday gave a clean chit to the B.C. Roy Children's Hospital after an internal inquiry.

Director of Medical Education Sushanta Banerjee said no lapse was found in the treatment of the babies, who were brought in a moribund state.

October 26, 2011

Demand coal royalty from Centre, Left’s Asim tells govt

Express News Service Posted online: Tue Oct 25 2011, 05:56 hrs

Kolkata : Amid Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s demand for a financial package from the Centre, Asim Dasgupta, the former finance minister in the Left Front government, on Monday said the state government should demand Rs 5,000 crore coal royalty from the Central government.

He said other states too have been getting coal royalty from the Centre and thus they cannot oppose the West Bengal government's demand. The state government's demand for a financial package from the Centre had angered other states like Gujarat and Tamil Nadu whose chief ministers, Narendra Modi and Jayalalitha respectively, had alleged step-motherly treatment by the Centre.

Addressing mediapersons in Kolkata, Dasgupta said the Centre has not given the state any royalty for the coal dug up from Bengal since 1991. “Moreover, there is a Supreme Court order on giving coal royalty to the states,” he added.

Dasgupta, who had been handling the state's finances for nearly two decades said the incumbent government has not highlighted the coal royalty while demanding financial aid from the Centre. He even termed that some of the claims made by the Mamata Banerjee-led government on the financial status of the state as “misleading”. “The total revenue receipt of the state government is Rs 65,848 crore of which 74 per cent and not 94 per cent, as claimed by the present government, is spent on paying salaries, pensions and interest,” said Dasgupta, who called the new government as “incompetent”.

Dasgupta said the total income of the state government stands at Rs 87,643 crore, and out of this 63 per cent is spent of salary, pensions and interest to the loans. He said the remaining, Rs 32,713, crore be spent by the state to meet various expenses.

Alleging that the incumbent government has not been able to manage the state’s finances effectively, Dasgupta said the Left Front government had borrowed Rs 5,000 crore from the open market last year, but the new government has borrowed Rs 10,000 crore in the same period this year. He also said that while last year the state government had been able to increase the tax collection to 29 per cent, this year the growth has been only 19 per cent against a target of 30 per cent.

He also rejected the government's claim that the state has “humongous” debt. The former finance minister said that while Bengal has a debt of Rs 1.92 lakh crore, other states like Maharashtra has a debt of Rs 2.36 lakh crore and UP has Rs 2.35 lakh crore as debts as on March 31,2011.

Asim data duel with Mamata

THE TELEGRAPH, Issue Date: Tuesday , October 25 , 2011

Calcutta, Oct. 24: Former finance minister Asim Dasgupta today opened a war of numbers with Mamata Banerjee by calling into question the data used by the chief minister to seek special assistance from the Centre to overcome Bengal’s financial woes.

During her meeting with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh last week, Mamata had highlighted that the state government was left with only 6 paise from every rupee it earned to fund development and blamed the crisis on the Left’s 34 years of “misrule”.

“Out of one rupee, 94 paise are spent on salary and other responsibilities of the state. Only 6 paise are left for development. How will we do with such little money? The Centre has to think,” she had said in Delhi.

Dasgupta said that according to the financial statement (Abstract of the Annual Financial Statement 2011-12 and Trends of Expenditure and Growth Trajectories) tabled by his successor Amit Mitra, the state’s outgo on salaries, pension and interest payment constituted 74 per cent of the revenue receipts.

No one from the government was available to explain the accounting Mamata had used to arrive at the 94-paise figure.

“I don’t know how the figure of 94 was arrived at,” Dasgupta said.

“If the Centre extends help to the state government, it will be good. But what was said while seeking extra assistance was misleading and incomplete,” he added.

Dasgupta has held several news conferences in the past five months to rebut Mamata’s claim that the Left’s misrule had plunged Bengal into bankruptcy. On all such occasions, the attempt was to defend the Left record and its policies by rolling out economic data.
Today, he went on the attack, first questioning the numbers that form the basis of Mamata’s strident demand for special central assistance, the absence of which even after five months in power appears to be frustrating her. Non-Congress states have opposed a special package for Bengal, alleging this would amount to discrimination against them.
“This government had set a target of 30 per cent growth in tax revenue collection, but till now the growth has been only around 19 per cent. In the corresponding period, we had achieved a growth of around 29 per cent last year,” said Dasgupta.

The former finance minister also mentioned that the new government’s market borrowing had touched Rs 10,000 crore — the highest among all states — in the five months of the current fiscal year while the Left Front had restricted it to Rs 9,500 crore for all of 2010-11.

“Government employees have not received even one instalment of the dearness allowance this year,” he said. The issue of arrears and DA for government staff is sensitive as the state employs over 10 lakh people.

October 23, 2011

‘Unfit to drive’, 156 fire engine drivers hired by Left told to take a retest

Sabyasachi Bandopadhyay

INDIAN EXPRESS, Posted online: Thu Oct 20 2011, 02:37 hrs

Kolkata: The West Bengal government has ordered a retest for a batch of 156 engine drivers of the Fire Service department who got their jobs about eight months ago after going through all necessary tests.

The order was issued by Indevar Pandey, Principal Secretary, Fire department, some time back after Director of Fire Services Gopal Bhattacharya wrote to the government that 27 of the 156 drivers, who were recruited during the fag end of Left Front rule, were not fit to drive fire engines and were recruited without proper tests.

Since the 27 could not be singled out, the fire department called all the 156 for a retest of their driving skills.

“The tests are going on. I will not say anything more on this,” Bhattacharya told The Indian Express.

The move, however, has not gone down well with a section of officials believing that it could lead to complications.

“If any of the drivers goes to court, the government would be in a fix as they were taken in after all the tests, including medical. Apart from that they are in service and have been receiving salary for the past eight months. How can you take a retest now? What will you do if any of them disqualifies,” asked one official.

In another mysterious development, the complaint sent by Bhattacharya to the Secretary was on Wednesday found missing from the file.

“This must have been an insider job, somebody is trying to shield the man or group of men who were responsible for those appointments during the Left Front government,” said one official.

The Fire Department is facing a leadership crisis as Pandey, who handles two other departments as well - Home (Personnel) and Disaster Management — hardly finds any time it.

“He never sits in his office in the Fire Department. Many projects and plans have fallen. The department is in doldrums,’’ an official alleged.

Coal shortfall hits steel production in West Bengal

IANS, Oct 18, 2011, 02.48pm IST

KOLKATA: Production in the secondary steel sector of West Bengal has fallen as heavy rains have prevented the state-run Coal India Limited (CIL) from supplying enough of the vital raw material.

The sector expects to be further hit because there will be no e-auction of coal for it this month. It is on hold to divert the raw material to power stations. These auctions are a 'lifeline' to the secondary steel sector.

Coal supply to power and steel plants are badly affected as the coal giant was unable to meet its target in the first half of the current fiscal, the output falling short by around 20 million tonnes (MT) due to adverse weather conditions.

Against the target of 196 MT, largely due to heavy rains the Maharatna company could produce only about 176 MT of coal from April to September.

Steelmakers said the coal crisis for the steel sector will aggravate further with CIL's recent decision to offer four million tonnes of additional coal by e-auction to the power sector in October.

"Plants in West Bengal are on the verge of closing down due to acute coal shortage," Kolkata-based Shyam Steel director Lalit Beriwala told IANS. "We have been particularly facing severe shortage of coal for the last six months because of short supply from the CIL."

Beriwala said the state was currently producing at half its installed capacity.

"No new coal linkage has been given for the last four years in the state," he said.

He said prices of coal distributed through e-auction were very high; moreover, no trader should be allowed in the e-auction because they tend to jack up prices.

The coal distribution policy in the country has to be changed, he said.

On CIL's decision to put on hold the e-auction for the month of October, Beriwala said it will aggravate the coal crisis for steel producers as they purchased a bulk of coal through this medium.

"Now 70 percent of the steel plants will be closed down in West Bengal. I do not know what will be the fate of industry in the state if the government does not take any action," he added.

Another major steelmaker in the state, Jai Balaji Group, said it had resorted to more coal import from abroad.

"For the last few months, we have been facing severe shortage of domestic coal supplied by CIL and its subsidiaries," Jai Balaji Group chairman and managing director Aditya Jajodia said.

"Due to that our coal import has been increased by 25 percent. As a result cost of steel production has soared by about 40 percent," he added.

Jajodia said CIL's decision on e-auction of coal was a "negative development". "It will hurt steel sector as a whole," he added.

Santosh Bajaj of the Merchants' Chamber of Commerce ( MCC) said the steel sector in the state was facing supply as well as demand constraints.

"Bengal steel plants are facing a raw materials crisis, more in the recent times, because of the short supply in coal. Demand for steel is low because of low spending on infrastructure. If demand was high then the base price would have been higher. It would have ensured good profit for steel makers," Bajaj said.

Moreover, according to him, steel producers are also facing a working capital crisis as interest rates are too high.

"Financially they are in a pathetic condition," he added.