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Time for a reality check

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The economy

IBN Live commented on the Prime Minister’s independence day speech:

In one of his most uninspiring speeches, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Wednesday admitted that low growth and inflation posed a major challenge and also offered little cheer when he said a bad monsoon would pose difficulty in curbing inflation. He conceded that his government had been unable to create a conducive environment for growth because of lack of political consensus. Singh also did not mention Pakistan even once in his 35 minute long speech.

War and peace

HT reports on Independence Day:

A Hindustan Times-C fore survey of 5,068 adults across 13 state capitals shows that a majority of people between the ages of 18 and 35 want India to become an expansionist superpower like China or a pro-US capitalist country.

India does not produce advanced weapons systems, not even army trucks. In fact, TOI reported:

India, which has emerged as a major importer of American military hardware, is verifying reports about “faulty spare parts made in China” being used in defence equipment sold by the US to other countries.

Sports

After the debacle of the Olympics hockey, TOI interviewed Michael Nobbs, the Indian hockey coach:

TOI: This is India’s worst-ever show at the Olympics…

Nobbs: Really? I think not being at the Olympics at all was worse.

The Hindu writes:

India’s No. 10 international ranking itself was a clear indication that they were never in medal contention at the Olympic Games here, but it was hard to believe that they would fail to win a single match, finishing at the bottom of the table.

Unity in diversity

ABC reports that Olympic medallist Mary Kom’s state is not exactly happy and peaceful:

There have been a series of bomb blasts in the remote north-eastern Indian state of Manipur.

Four people were seriously injured when at least three bombs were detonated near an independence day parade in Manipur’s capital, Imphal.

There have been reports of other bomb attacks across the province.

Power to the people

Hindu Business Line reported the latest from West Bengal:

At Belpahari, while the Chief Minister was telling the crowd (as reported) “on how Maoists entering Belpahari from Jharkhand and Odisha were trying to scupper the Government’s development plans in Jangalmahal,” a man sitting in the front row stood up, pointed a finger at the Chief Minister, and charged her thus: “You are making false promises. You know well that your promises will never be fulfilled. Why are you lying to poor people like us.”

Reportedly, Banerjee turned furious, and pointing a finger at the man shouted into the microphone: “Catch him immediately. I have information that four-five Maoists are present at the meeting venue. They are trying to create disturbance.”

After the man was led away by the police, the Chief Minister turned to the crowd and said: “Did you see how I caught one of them red-handed? I know them.”

Reports appearing on August 9 on the incident said that the police later freed the man — mistakenly identified as Duryodhan Mahato (his real name being Shiladitya Chowdhury) — as they found nothing incriminating about him.

Forget all your troubles and your strife

HT points out the silver lining:

India is proudly celebrating her 65th Independence Day today.

In these sixty five years, India has reached out at numerous levels, with the Indian film industry, popularly known as Bollywood, becoming one of the most successful film industries in the world.

Our celebrities are everywhere, from fashion events to charity balls, from Hollywood to the Olympics – our desi celebs dawn their avatars with style and panache.

I didn’t quite unederstand that last clause, but I don’t think that matters. Happy independence day.

Written by Arhopala Bazaloides

August 15, 2012 at 11:06 am

Emperor Ashok for president

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NDTV reports that Mamata Banerjee still wants Kalam for president:

Ms Banerjee’s whole-hearted support for Dr Kalam, which included a Facebook campaign, has been cut short by the scientist’s announcement today that he will not run against Mr Mukherjee. On Fcebook [sic], Ms Banerjee posted, “I have seen your statement that you are not contesting. This news has hurt all of us deeply.” She also said, “Some political parties simply failed the people at this critical moment in responding to the clarion call given by so many common citizens of our nation to stand up for a man of impeccable integrity.”

Since the realm of possibilities is too narrow when you look for the correct candidate, I would suggest a man who united India: emperor Ashok of Magadha. No political party will support this, but who cares? They are only artists of the possible.

Written by Arhopala Bazaloides

June 18, 2012 at 3:46 pm

A googly for the president

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IBN Live starts this story with a word which is not seen very often any longer:

In a political googly, Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee and Samajwadi Party president Mulayam Singh on Wednesday proposed three new names for President: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, former Speaker Somnath Chatterjee and former president APJ Abdul Kalam.

While Kalam and Chatterjee were expected choices, suggesting Singh’s name appears to be a direct challenge to the Congress. It remains to be seen how the Congress responds to these suggestions. What is clear is that the political game over the choice of President has clearly become more complex.

The Trinamool Congress and the Samajwadi Party, both crucial regional players, with these nominations indicated that they are aligned on the Presidential election issue.

Banerjee appealed to all to think about the names proposed by her and Mulayam unanimously and decide. “Presidential candidate should be chosen by consensus. There is no priority. There are no priorities in these names, let the political parties decide,” added Banerjee.

Proposing Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s name seems just like a diversionary tactic by Banerjee and Mulayam at the moment and will the Congress reject all three names proposed by them is to be seen now.

Now this whole story of how the Congress is unable to push its own presidential candidate also underlines why the president may play a politically important role after the next general election. Of course, it also explains why Standard and Poor is downgrading India.

June 16, 2012

Since the center is unlikely to hold after the next general elections, the choice of the president is crucial, says Reuters in its report on the Congress nominee:

By all accounts, Congress Party leader Sonia Gandhi does not trust the man she nominated on Friday to become the next president of India, Pranab Mukherjee. But with her party facing tough elections due by 2014 he may be her ace in the hole.

Until now, India’s president has been viewed as a ceremonial head of state. But with the next elections widely expected to produce a fragmented parliament with no clear winner, Mukherjee, a loyal Congress man, will play a key role in deciding which party takes the lead in forming a new government.

Perhaps more importantly, Mukherjee, 76, now finance minister, could help the Gandhi family keep its grip on power. Sonia’s son, Rahul, is a leading contender to become prime minister in any new Congress-led coalition. As president, Mukherjee would have a say in who gets that job.

Mukherjee was nominated by the Congress party in the face of opposition from a key ally within the ruling coalition. The party, however, won support from other coalition partners for its choice and appeared confident that Mukherjee would win the electoral college vote on July 19.

Analysts say Mukherjee could play an influential role in steering the country through potentially one of the most politically turbulent periods in modern Indian history.

With neither of the two main parties — Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party — expected to win convincing majorities in 2014, a fragile coalition that includes several regional parties could emerge to claim power.

In that scenario, Mukherjee, famed for his political acumen, could as president exercise more authority, taking advantage of a vaguely worded constitution.

The analysts must be right; Mamata Banerjee is now in the political wilderness. A politician like her will then try to open a new channel to voters, reports TOI

West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee debuted on Facebook on Saturday renewing her call for APJ Kalam as President, and saying that whatever else she had to say on the subject would be updated on the internet social network site.

“I have already put across my viewpoints in Facebook. Whatever I have to say, I will say on Facebook”, Banerjee said before leaving the state secretariat unfazed by her isolation after the Congress-led UPA yesterday named Pranab Mukherjee as its Presidential nominee.

Banerjee, who had told reporters last night that “the game is not over. It has just begun” and she would speak her mind on the presidential elections today, said “I wont say anything today. Tomorrow is Sunday. I don’t know … on Monday … we will see then…”

NDTV could also have used the word googly in this report:

BJP leader Ram Jethmalani has launched himself in the race to the Raisina Hill. Opposing Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee’s candidature, Mr Jethmalani told NDTV that he will not let Mr Mukherjee become the President unopposed.

“I might lose, but will still contest Presidential poll. Pranab is a friend, but I oppose his candidature… He hasn’t revealed names of black money holders,” said Mr Jethmalani, who is a Rajya Sabha MP from Rajasthan.

Meanwhile, the BJP core group met this evening to decide its strategy before it consults with its allies on whether to support Mr Mukherjee or get into a contest for the president’s post. The BJP-led alliance has so far followed a wait-and-watch policy, but a decision is expected after a key meeting of the allies tomorrow.

Written by Arhopala Bazaloides

June 13, 2012 at 1:56 pm

Mamata Banerjee leaves one speechless

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Washington Post interviews Mamata Banerjee:

When a woman was gang-raped, Banerjee accused her of fabricating the case to “malign” her government. When a chemistry professor shared a cartoon by e-mail mocking the chief minister, he was beaten by her party workers and arrested.

Asked about the cartoon, Banerjee launched into a tirade about how her Marxist political opponents were plotting with Maoist rebels to discredit and kill her, in league with Pakistani intelligence and financed by North Korea, Venezuela and Hun­gary.

“They have given me the death sentence, and every day they are spreading this superimposed photo, on Facebook, on Internet or in the e-mail, through some false, camouflaged name,” she said.

Flabbergasted is probably the word that describes us now.

Written by Arhopala Bazaloides

May 25, 2012 at 1:43 pm

Sanity from the common man

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April 23, 2012

Changes of government do not reset the calendar to year zero, as the French Revolution proved through its remarkable lack of success in this. Unfortunately the petulant demands of the new government of west Bengal that the rest of the country shoulder its development burden without expecting debts to be repaid amounts to exactly that. The voice of the common man is heard in this letter to the editor published in DNA

This has reference to ‘Bengal’s interest: Didi sets 15-day deadline for Centre’ [1] (April 22). Mamata Banerjee has asked the Centre to decide on her demand for a three-year moratorium on the interest her state pays as debt. West Bengal pays annually Rs. 22,000 crore to the Centre towards debt servicing for repayment of loans taken by the CPI (M)-led government. Though the demand may ring true, it will set a bad precedent. Other states too will demand such moratorium. Setting the deadline for accepting her demand is tantamount to blackmail. It is not a healthy sign for a democracy. She is exploiting the weakness of the coalition UPA government.

The government of West Bengal is reported to have started its own newspaper and TV news channel [2] to spell the achievements of the government. It is a negative move. People can well read the achievements of the government from the implementation of welfare programmes. There is no need for any advertisements of government programmes. Also, railway minister Mukul Roy’s proposal to include a column asking for political leaning in railway reservation forms just to avoid Left party sympathisers travelling along with others, especially TMC supporters, is surprising. Hope such people are not sent out of West Bengal. Let Didi first govern the state well, stop deaths of babies in hospitals [3] and crime against women [4].

May 2, 2012

IE reported on the lever that the Trinamool Congress will try to move:

Sources suggested that Mamata will be spelling out her demand for a moratorium on the huge debt burden on West Bengal. Considering the timing of the Trinamool’s decision to raise the pitch on this six-month-old demand, the moratorium — for three years to begin with followed by a possible 10-year debt restructuring plan — is expected to be Mamata’s leve-rage in the presidential election. Her party holds 4 per cent of the vote in the presidential electoral college.

ET puts financial meat around the bare-bones political analysis above:

According to reported data Bengal’s total borrowings have reached 208,382 crore (revised estimate) in the last fiscal – up from 187,387 crore as in March 2011. The state has forked out an estimated 23,000 crore as interest payment in 2011-12 as against its total tax revenue of close to 25,000 crore.

The finance ministry, the officials said, has made this clear – the Constitution does not allow discretionary powers like interest moratorium to be used for a single state. Banerjee had given a 15-day ultimatum on April 21 to the Centre to act on her demand for the moratorium. She had met finance minister Pranab Mukherjee last week on the issue.

Murkherjee had also told Banerjee that constitutional provisions barred a special moratorium, and also similar demands from other states like Bihar haven’t been granted. West Bengal has demanded a three year moratorium on interest payment and a debt recast.

A senior official said the only quasi-exception was made for Punjab in the 1980s when the state was severely affected by militancy. But that, the official said, was a highly unusual situation, while the problem with Bengal is “poor management”.

A report being prepared by a committee led by Sumit Basu, the Union expenditure secretary, is looking at three states – Bengal, Kerala, Punjab – that can land in a debt trap by 2014-15.

Written by Arhopala Bazaloides

April 23, 2012 at 5:04 am

Does this need lampooning?

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IE reports on Mamata Banerjee’s latest attempt to stifle dissent:

A professor of chemistry at the Jadavpur University was today arrested for allegedly circulating by e-mail a cartoon lampooning Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee.

Deputy Commissioner of Kolkata Police (south suburban division) Sujoy Chanda said: ”Professor Ambikesh Mohapatra has been arrested for spreading derogatory messages against respectable people,” .

Mohapatra, a professor of Chemistry, was arrested and taken to the East Jadavpur Police station early today.

It is understood the cartoon was a spoof on director Satyajit Ray’s film ‘Sonar Kella’, substituting its main characters with Mamata Banerjee, Railway Minister Mukul Roy and former Railway Minister Dinesh Trivedi, to parody the recent Rail Budget fiasco.

One supposes that it is only in Kolkata that speaking against respectable people (bhadralok) is a crime. HT reports that the police were hand-in-glove with a bunch of not-so-respectable political rowdies:

Police arrested Ambikesh Mahapatra, a professor of chemistry of Jadavpur University for sending e-mails that show chief minister Mamata Banerjee, former railway minister Dinesh Trivedi and railway minister Mukul Roy in a poor light.

Police sources say Subrata Sengupta, a neighbour of Mahapatra, has also been arrested. Among the charges slapped against the two are some sections of the IT Act.

Trinamool Congress supporters attacked him at his residence at New Garia on Thursday night. They accused him to sending disparaging e-mails that showed chief minister, railway minister and the former railway minister in a poor light, and uploading the cartoon on his Facebook account.

According to Jadavpur University sources, police arrived at the scene when the Trinamool supporters were heckling the professor. Police picked him up and took him to the East Jadavpur police station. He was shown arrested on Friday morning.

Deccan Herald quoted a critic:

The arrest has evoked widespread criticism.Trinamool Congress rebel MP Kabir Suman, condemning the arrest, said: “Even I have received the cartoon and I cannot fathom how it can be a cyber crime. It has been made in good humour. If he can be arrested today, then who knows we may be arrested tomorrow.”

A report in HT makes out a case of intimidation and breaking of the law by the police:

“If one commits an offence, he has to face arrest. Conspiracies won’t be tolerated,” said chief minister Mamata Banerjee in the afternoon.

“I am not repentant for my act,” Mahapatra said in the evening. He told the media that his house was stormed by several Trinamool Congress supporters on Thursday evening, and they forced him to write a letter declaring he was a CPI(M) supporter and had deliberately sent the e-mail.

The police slapped IPC sections 500 (punishment of defamation), 509 (make obsence gesture to a woman), 114 (abettor present when offence is committed), and sections 66 A and B (sending offensive communication) of the IT Act.

Mahapatra also claimed the police never told him that he could obtain bail from the East Jadavpur police station itself where he was taken on Thursday night. Incidentally, all the sections of IPC and IT Act slapped against Mahapatra and Sengupta were bailable sections, which means the accused could take bails from the police station without being produced to the court.

Written by Arhopala Bazaloides

April 13, 2012 at 9:43 am

Maybe the railway budget

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The Railway minister, Dinesh Trivedi’s, budget proposal is quoted in full by NDTV. The operative parts read:

Within the constraints of funds, the Annual Plan outlay for the year 2012-13 has been targeted at [INR] 60,100 crore, which is highest ever plan investment. The plan would be financed through:

  1. Gross Budgetary Support of 24,000 crore
  2. Railway Safety Fund of 2,000 crore;
  3. Internal Resources of 18,050 crore; and
  4. Extra Budgetary Resources of 6,050 crore, whichincludes market borrowing of 15,000 crore through IRFC


I propose to rationalise the fares to cause minimal impact on thecommon man and to keep the burden within tolerance limits ingeneral. I am asking for an extra only 2 paise per km for suburban andordinary second class. Similarly, increase for mail express secondclass will be by only 3 paise per km; for sleeper class by only 5 paiseper km; for AC Chair Car, AC 3 tier & First Class by only 10 paise per km; AC 2 Tier by only 15 paise per km; and AC I by only 30 paise per km. Corresponding rationalisation in minimum distance and fare chargeable in various classes has also been proposed.

The last para above incensed Mr. Trivedi’s party chief enough for her to ask the prime minister to sack him. IE reports:

The UPA was pushed to the wall again tonight by the Trinamool Congress and its increasingly capricious chief Mamata Banerjee who sought the sacking of her seniormost nominee in the union cabinet, Railway Minister Dinesh Trivedi, hours after he proposed a hike in passenger fares, the first in 10 years.

The government is said to have agreed to Banerjee’s request — faxed to the Prime Minister’s Office — to replace Trivedi with Mukul Roy who is currently minister of state for shipping. This, ironically, hours after Prime Minister Manmohan Singh applauded Trivedi’s budget as “forward looking”.

Roy, known as Mamata’s right-hand man, has had an earlier stint as minister of state for railways. On July 11 last year, he refused to visit the site of the Guwahati-Puri Express derailment in Assam saying that it was the PM, and not he, who was in charge of Railways.

Trivedi also spelled out a plan to balance fluctuating fuel costs with train fares and laid out a roadmap for a major revamp in the Indian Railways Board, aimed at making the Railways more modern and safe.

An independent Rail Tariff Authority, subject to approval by Parliament, will from now on fix fares, and thereby take away the railway minister’s exclusive powers on fare revisions.

“I have successfully brought the Railways out of the intensive care unit,” Trivedi said minutes after delivering the budget.

His plan outlay of Rs 60,100 crore is the highest ever, about Rs 3,000 crore more than last year’s outlay earmarked by Mamata Banerjee. “I had to do it to save the Railways,” Trivedi said.

Written by Arhopala Bazaloides

March 14, 2012 at 9:49 pm

Shooting from the lip

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On Feb 15 IBN Live reported:

A 37-year-old woman who was allegedly raped at gunpoint inside a moving car in Kolkata tracked down her rapists on social networking website Facebook and took snapshots of their photographs to file a complaint against them.

The rape victim then approached the police with the photographs of the alleged culprits from Facebook. However, she claimed that the police officials intimidated her when she approached them for the filing of an FIR.

On Feb 16 TOI reported unbelievable statements from the Chief Minister of West Bengal:

The claim of a Anglo-Indian woman that she was raped in a car in a posh locality here took a political hue today when chief minister Mamata Banerjee termed the incident as “contrived” and “intended to malign” her government.

“The incident is contrived and intended to malign my government. Truth will come out,” Banerjee told reporters.

Asked about the alleged involvement of the son of a former assembly Speaker, she said, “You have not written about it yesterday. Everything will come out.”

Commissioner of Kolkata Police R K Pachnanda said there were attempts to criticise the police and the state government over the incident but there were inconsistencies in the statements of the woman.

The woman had alleged she was raped in a car when she had taken a lift while returning from a night club in Park Street on February 5, but had registered a complaint four days later.

TOI reported elsewhere:

“The officer in charge asked me awkward questions in the name of investigation. He asked me how a woman could be raped inside a moving car. Then he wanted me to explain the posture in which the accused had raped me,” alleged the victim. The law – and basic decency – dictates that a rape victim be handled with sensitivity. But the victim says that some officers at Park Street police station taunted her for going to a nightclub and even tried to malign her character.

Police were also supposed to take her to the nearest government medical college for examination and then move court for forensic tests on the victim. But the victim went to NRS on her own for a medical test and police did not apply for forensic tests till February 10. The test was carried out only on February 14.

This delay could prove very costly because the night club where the gang allegedly approached the woman preserves CCTV footage for only four days. The incident happened on February 6 and even on February 10, the police had time to get the tape but they did not bother. They did not even bother to go through the CCTV footage of the hotel or the intersection where she was dropped.

On Feb 18, it turned out that the only conspiracy was Mamata Banerjee’s attempt to discredit a victim of a crime. NDTV reports:

Nine days after a woman in Kolkata filed a police complaint that she had been raped in a car at gunpoint on the night of February 5, a breakthrough has been made in the case. The Kolkata police have arrested two people – Nishad Alam, 25, and Sumit Bajaj, 21, – who have reportedly admitted to their involvement in the crime.

The breakthrough came after police studied CCTV footage of the parking lot of the hotel where the woman is seen with four men getting into a car which was identified as belonging to Sumit Bajaj.

The hunt is on for at least two others involved in the crime, including the rapist. The two men arrested will be produced in court tomorrow.

The victim had said she was offered a lift by a man who she had met at the night club. Initially, there were two men in the car. But when she got into the back seat, three other men got in. While one man assaulted her, the others allegedly held her down, she claimed. When she tried to raise an alarm, the men hit her and threatened her with a gun, she added. She said she was later thrown out of the car.

West Bengal seems to be a blighted state: no industry, no employment, abysmal health care, the tattered remnant of a hollowed-out system, and a chief minister who was voted in by an adulatory public only to turn into a megalomaniac who sees conspiracies in every failure of governance. That things happen in spite of these is a testament to the efforts of the good people who still manage to function within a rotten system.

Written by Arhopala Bazaloides

February 18, 2012 at 6:07 pm

The awful state of health care in Bengal

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The latest story of medical negligence to emerge from Kolkata involves the death by suffocation of a large number of people in a fire in a hospital, spreading from inflammable material stored illegally in a basement car park.

IE reported:

Medical staff at the AMRI hospital – one of Kolkata’s top medical facilities – abandoned their patients and fled for safety early Friday as fire and smoke poured through the building, leaving 88 people dead, many from smoke inhalation, officials said.

Six people, including industrialist S K Todi of the AMRI group were arrested and the licence of the hospital cancelled.

Earlier IBN live reported:

Forty people are confirmed dead due to suffocation in a major fire that broke out at AMRI Hospital in Dhakuria in south Kolkata on Friday. All the dead are reported to be patients as the hospital authorities fled from the spot.

As angry relatives gathered at the hospital to look for their loved ones, they vent their ire at the lack of relief and rescue efforts by the hospital authorities by damaging AMRI’s properties.

Many people were, however, still believed to be trapped inside. The fire was under control. Nearly 25 fire tenders were working hard to evacuate all patients and staff.

BBC updates the death toll to 73, and quotes the chief minister:

West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee said the licence of the hospital had been cancelled.

She said fire was an “unforgivable crime” and that those responsible would be given the harshest punishment.

Talk is cheap. Previous cases of extreme negligence in health care were brushed under the carpet by the same government. Safety norms were not imposed, as the Deccan Chronicle finds:

The firemen evacuated patients with pulleys from the upper floors as they were not in a condition to be taken down by ladders put up by the fire brigade all around the building.

The fire brigade had difficulty in entering the hospital premises as the approach roads were narrow, he said. Additional Director General, Fire Services, D. Biswas said that the fire brigade was informed at 4:10 AM and responded immediately.

Biswas said that patients who died were admitted in the critical care and orthopaedic units and were unable to move.

He said if proper fire fighting arrangements existed at the hospital, such a fire could not have taken place.

[Senior vice-president of AMRI S.] Upadhay claimed that the hospital followed strict fire safety measures and conducted regular fire drills. “All statutory safety and fire licences are in place.”

Z News corroborates the Fore Department’s version of the story:

Although there is still no clarity on what caused the fire at the AMRI hospital in Kolkata early Friday, initial investigation into the incident suggests that fire safety norms were clearly violated by the hospital management.

According to the fire brigade officials, who were involved in the relief and rescue operation, the basement of the AMRI hospital, which should have been used for parking vehicles, was converted into a medical equipment storage facility.

The experts of the fire department say that some highly flammable material were being stored in the basement, which possibly stoked the fire which is supposed to have been caused by an electric short-circuit.

West Bengal Urban Development Minister Firhad Hakim has also confirmed that the hospital basement was being illegally used as the storage facility, thus violating the safety standards meant for avoiding such mishaps.

Initial investigation into the incident and the eyewitnesses suggest that the fire originated in the electrical department in the basement of the AMRI hospital at around 3 am, which quickly spread to the first and second floors, trapping patients.

The electricity supply was immediately cut off by the fire brigade officials to prevent it from spreading to other areas and causing much damage.

The day after the disaster, the Daily Pioneer editorialized:

it is a measure of humanity in these troubled times that the hospital staff, on whom the patients were dependent for their lives, were the first to flee. They deserve to be pitilessly punished as much as those who are responsible for the day-to-day management of the hospital; the owners of AMRI, who have surrendered to the police, should be given exemplary punishment so that other ‘entrepreneurs’ are not tempted to cut corners while minting money.

That, however, will not bring this tragedy to a closure for which two other issues need to be addressed. Apparently AMRI was warned in September by civic officials about the mess in its basement, from where Friday’s fire began, and asked to clean up its act. Clearly, AMRI did not bother to do so: Given the ease with which punitive action for non-adherence to rules and regulations can be warded off by greasing the right palms, the hospital’s owners ignored the warning, secure in the belief nothing would come of it. Second, it is now established that AMRI did not have any fire-fighting system in place, not even basic equipment, in contravention of mandatory rules. It is the responsibility of the Fire Department to monitor compliance and, in the event of non-compliance, to seal the premises. The Fire Department did not do so. The reasons for that failure are too well known to merit elaboration. Suffice to say that AMRI’s owners were operating by taking recourse to ‘business practices’ that militate against the law of the land. The Government of West Bengal owes an explanation on both these issues; it must also take demonstrative action against the concerned officials who so abjectly failed in fulfilling their responsibilities.

December 15, 2011

As the fire department continues to investigate, shocking details are reported by TOI:

The AMRI Dhakuria night staff not only wasted two precious hours trying to douse the fire on their own, they even refused to let the fire brigade enter when the entire annexe building had already turned into a gas chamber and patients were dying.

Fire officials investigating the blaze have told TOI that the basement was packed with highly inflammable goods – from LPG and oxygen cylinders to chemicals, floor cleaners and PVC material. There was so much of it that forensic experts found it difficult to identify where the fire started.

“It was a veritable jatugriha (tinderbox),” an officer said. Wooden boxes, empty medicine cartons, plastic boxes and cotton were dumped in huge quantities. This is what created the unstoppable clouds of smoke that took 93 lives.

Investigators have pinpointed three possible sources of the blaze. First, a gas stove that should never have been used next to flammable stuff. Fire officials have found evidence that it was used to make tea, perhaps for the night shift. Second, electric cables that did not have the mandatory fireproof casing. Fire officials have found burn-out cables, indicating a short circuit. A spark here would have easily ignited any of the chemicals or plastics dumped around. An asbestos casing would have prevented the sparks from flying about but the cables were open, said sources. Third, the air-conditioning mother plant.

A history of suppressing records of safety lapses is also emerging, as the Kolkata Telegraph reports:

Three days before Friday’s tragedy, a night guard named Haradhan Chakraborty had allegedly been pulled up for dialling the fire brigade to douse a “small fire” on the first floor of AMRI Medical Centre at Southern Avenue.

“He was served a showcause notice for negligence, based on the allegation that he had dozed off while on duty and so couldn’t assess the situation properly. The official version of that incident is that there was only slight smoke, for which an external agency need not have been called in,” a Lalbazar source said.

On learning that Chakraborty had called for help, someone hurriedly called the fire brigade to say it was a false alarm. The incident was not recorded at the fire control room because the SOS was withdrawn, the source said.

Written by Arhopala Bazaloides

December 9, 2011 at 8:42 am

Gorkhaland Territorial Administration

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18 July, 2011

The Hindu reports:

Bimal Gurung, Mamata Banerjee and Roshan Giri

The historic tripartite agreement for the Gorkhaland Territorial Administration (GTA) was on Monday signed to resolve the vexed Darjeeling problem amidst protests and bandhs in the Terai and Dooars areas.

The agreement was signed by West Bengal Home Secretary G D Gautama, Union Home Ministry Joint Secretary K.K.Pathak and the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha General Secretary Roshan Giri at the Pintail village, about 8 km from Siliguri.

Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and GJM chief Bimal Gurung and the BJP MP from Darjeeling Jaswant Singh were present at the accord-signing ceremony, among others.

Describing the occasion as ‘historic,’ Mr. Chidambaram said the Centre and the state government would fully back the GTA.

Categorically ruling out any division of the state, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee said the new memorandum of agreement sought to confer to the GTA maximum possible autonomy within the constitutional framework and within various state and central acts.

In a word of advice to the GJM leadership, Mr. Chidambarm said, “Your task is stupendous. Your subjects cover an entire range of development.”

The subjects under the GTA included, among other things, agriculture, irrigation, food, industry, education, women and child development, water resources, land and land revenue, municipalities, panchayats, urban development, public health and tourism, he said, adding “everything that concerns people are given to you.”

Interestingly no newspaper quotes any member of the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha. Are they playing their cards very close to their chests? Probably yes, claims IE:

According to GJM sources, Gurung is not only opting out of the signing but will not be directly involved either with the board of administrators that will run the interim set-up in Darjeeling hills, till election to the Gorkhaland Territorial Administration is held.

Gurung’s move follows the criticism levelled at him for dropping the demand for a separate state and for accepting the interim arrangement. Like a previous tripartite agreement, this MoA too would have a written assurance from the GJM leadership not to raise the separate statehood demand.

By not signing on the dotted line, Gurung appears to be sending a message to the Gorkha people that he is keeping the option of a statehood demand open.

Kurseong Information takes one point of view, that this agreement is really a big deal:

The new administration will be vested with powers to regulate 54 subjects, unlike the 1988 creation of Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council which was given control over only 19 subjects.

This will be the first time that any authority outside the state gets such wide-ranging powers. Except for legislative powers, the Bimal Gurung-led GJM has managed to wrest control over all state subjects as far as Darjeeling hill area is concerned, including land, forest, education, levy of local taxes, health and tea plantation.

A long article from Himal takes the opposite point of view, whil also providing background on intra-Gorkha politics and Gorkha political aspirations:

The Morcha candidates for the three constituencies of Darjeeling district – Trilok Dewan, Harka Bahadur Chettri and Rohit Sharma from Darjeeling, Kalimpong and Kurseong, respectively – together secured the highest margin of votes ever recorded in the state, thus clearly indicating the people’s aspirations for a separate state. Indeed, the results even showed similar support in the plains, where Wilson Chompromary, an independent MLA from Kalchini backed by the Morcha, won handily. Yet within days, the Morcha’s own leadership had all but given up on the push for Gorkhaland.

On the day the results were announced, Morcha President Bimal Gurung triumphantly stated, ‘This is a victory for Gorkhaland!’ While the GJM victory had been expected, none had been forecasting such a large margin – particularly after the sudden early-April return of Subash Ghisingh, who had ruled over the Darjeeling Hills for the two decades leading up to mid-2008. Even after the surprise end to his hibernation, however, Ghisingh’s party, the Gorkha National Liberation Front (GNLF), suffered an embarrassing defeat, with all three of the party’s candidates losing. On 16 May, GNLF supporters were accused of violently attacking their Morcha counterparts, including stabbing one in the neck, and within hours Ghisingh had again left the Hills under cover of darkness.

The biggest loser in the recent elections was probably the Akhil Bharatiya Gorkha League (ABGL). The party, which has long supported a settlement with Kolkata on the Gorkhaland issue, is currently headed by Bharati Tamang, wife of the late Madan Tamang, the former ABGL president who was stabbed to death by Morcha supporters in May 2010. Standing for election from Darjeeling, Bharati Tamang was able to record little more than 11,000 votes – compared to 120,532 votes secured by Trilok Dewan, the Morcha victor.

19 July, 2011

The statement that was expected from Gurung came as soon as it could, reports IBN:

A day after the signing of the tripartite agreement on Darjeeling, Gorkha Janmukti Morcha chief Bimal Gurung today said its original demand for Gorkhaland still stands.”The original demand for Gorkhaland remains. We have never said that we have withdrawn our demand for Gorkhaland,” Gurung told a press conference in Darjeeling.

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