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Wednesday, August 4, 2010

State Clueless on territory....Relay Hunger strike of ABGL withdrawn.. Center not willing to hold meeting with Ghising.

TT, Darjeeling, Aug. 4: The state government seems to have made little headway on the territory to be brought under the interim set-up for the Darjeeling hills even as it succeeded in defusing a potentially explosive situation by impressing upon the ABGL to lift the relay hunger strike during the Calcutta meeting on Tuesday.
Dawa Sherpa, the working president of the ABGL, today drove straight to Chowrastha on his arrival from Calcutta and announced the party’s decision to lift the hunger strike. The fast had been organised to demand the immediate arrest of those involved in the murder of Madan Tamang on May 21.
“In Calcutta, Samar Ghosh (state home secretary) assured us that action would be taken within a month. We have decided to postpone the hunger strike for a month. If the government fails to act, we will stage a fast unto death in front of Writers’ Buildings,” said Sherpa.
The ABGL had earlier threatened to convert the relay hunger strike into an indefinite fast unto death, an agitation, which had the potential to turn the situation in the hills explosive.
On the issue of an interim set-up, Sherpa added that the need for the hour was a permanent solution (read statehood) and not a stopgap arrangement.
“If the set-up is imposed on the hills, there will be widespread resentment and the demand for Gorkhaland will be raised within three months of accepting the arrangement,” added Sherpa.
In fact, Sherpa, who is also the convener of the Democratic Front, a six-party anti-Morcha alliance, seems to be preparing to start a campaign against the set-up.
“We will translate this document into Nepali and distribute copies to the masses. After demanding statehood, what is the compulsion for the Morcha to accept such a proposal,” asked Sherpa.
The Morcha, on the other hand, said it had already made the Centre’s proposal public on March 15. “We made the document public as we had rejected the Centre’s proposal and had drafted one on our own,” said Roshan Giri, the general secretary of the Morcha.
Terming the front as an anti-Gorkhaland force, Giri said: “They could have sat for the meeting in Siliguri since it was being chaired by Asok Bhattacharya. They went to Calcutta to conspire with the state government to work against the creation of Gorkhaland.”
Iterating its stand on the territory, Giri said: “Our demand is the inclusion of the Terai and the Dooars and we are firm on that.”
Observers say with the Centre agreeing to grant legislative powers to the new interim authority, it is only to be seen which side has more bargaining powers to finalise the subjects to be transferred to the set-up.
“However, the issue that can make or break this arrangement is the territory which is to be brought under the authority. There seems be no agreement on this point,” said an observer.
While the Centre and the state want the set-up to be confined to the three hill subdivisions of Darjeeling, Kalimpong and Kurseong, the Morcha wants the Dooars, Terai and Siliguri also to be part of the arrangement.
Giri, however, admitted that the party was preparing its observation as directed by the Centre at the June 24 tripartite meeting. “Our observation will be made public once the report is finalised.”
The Morcha has also decided to close down DGHC offices from August 6, but will allow the education department to function on Fridays. “The party will also organise a programme on Independence Day at Mungpoo where social worker P.R Pradhan from Kalimpong will be the chief guest,” said Giri.
ABGL withdraws Fast 

Darjeeling Times, Darjeeling, Aug 4: Democratic Front, coalition of hills political parties other than Gorkha Jan Mukti Morcha, arrived in Darjeeling town today, after the meeting held with the state government on August 3. Dawa Sherpa, convener of Democratic Front, was a quick to hold a public address and press release at Chowrasta, providing detail information about bilateral meeting held between state government and Democratic Front.
We have categorically rejected the Interim Authority, we want permanent solution for the chronic case like ours, pain killer would not work, the ‘Interim’ is a temporary solution. However, state govt. has sought our opinion in written, on the proposal of ‘Interim Authority’ – substitution for DGHC, by August 6, said Dawa Sherpa, during the public address at Chowrasta today.
We have clearly told the state government to restore the democracy and peace before anything to be implemented in the hills and committed at the extent of our subsequent agitation for the justice to Late Madan Tamang, said Dawa Sherpa. Respecting the assurance given by the state government, particularly Home Secretary Samar Ghosh, we are suspending our on going hunger strike for a month, disclosed Dawa Sherpa during the public address at Chowrasta today.
However, if state government fails to arrest culprits involved in the murder of Madan Tamang by next one month, we will again initiate Hunger strike, not only in Darjeeling but also in Kolkata, said Dawa Sherpa.
1.    An autonomous self-governing body to be known as Gorkhaland Autonomous Authority (GAA) would be established within the State of West Bengal.
2.    This would be an interim authority valid upto 31.12.2011 and could be extended if all the parties to the agreement agree to do so.
3.    It is agreed that election to the Gram Panchayats and Panchayat Samities in the GAA are could be held within the next 6 months.
4.    The initial composition of the 20 member GAA would be 20 members of which 15 would be nominated by the political parties in proportion to the number of seats won by the respective parties in the Gram Panchayat and Panchayat Samity. 5 members would be nominated by the Governor of West Bengal from the unrepresented communities of the GAA area. The nominated members would have the same rights and privileges as other members, including voting rights.
5.    Formal elections to the GAA would be held thereafter within 12 months of the coming into force of the GAA.
6.    The term of the elected members of the GAA shall be for five years.
7.    The GAA shall have legislative powers in respect of the subjects transferred to it enumerated in Annexure II-A.
8.    The area of the GAA would be the area of the Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council
9.    All laws made by the GAA in respect of the subjects enumerated in Annexure-II shall be submitted to the Governor of West Bengal and on his assent the same shall come into effect.
10.    The GAA shall have executive, administrative and financial powers in respect of subjects transferred to it.
11.    The GAA shall have control over the officers and staff connected with the delegated subjects working in the GAA area and shall be competent to transfer these officers and staff within the GAA area.
12.    ACRs of these officers would be written by the appropriate officers in the GAA.
13.    The offices of the Deputy Commissioner and the Superintendent of Police would be outside the superintendence and control of the GAA.
14.    The Government of West Bengal would provide an amount, to be decided every year on a population ratio basis as grant-in-aid in two equal installments to the GAA for executing development works. In addition, the GAA would be paid a suitable amount of plan and non-plan fund to cover the office expenses and the salaries of the staff working under their control. The GAA shall have full authority in selecting the activities and choosing the amount for the investment under the same in any year. The plan prepared by the GAA would be a sub-set of the State Plan and would be treated as an integral part.
15.    The State Government shall not divert the funds allocated to the GAA to other funds and also ensure its timely release.
16.    The executive functions of the GAA shall be exercised through its Principal Secretary who shall be an officer of the rank not below the Principal Secretary / Commissioner of the Government of West Bengal. The Principal Secretary once deputed to the GAA shall not be transferred for a period of at least 2 year without the consent of the GAA.
17.    Governor of West Bengal shall, through an appropriate agency, obtain a report on the functioning of the GAA and cause that Report with his recommendation to be laid on the Table of the West Bengal Assembly on an annual basis. The Governor of West Bengal shall also be authorized to call for and obtain any report either from the GAA or the State Government in respect of either the allocation of funds, its timely release and its utilization and give such directions as the Governor may deem fit so that the provisions of the agreement constituting the GAA are fully met.
18.    In order to accelerate the development of the region and to meet the aspirations of the people, the Government of India will provide a financial assistance of Rs_______________  crore per annum to GAA for three years for specific projects identified by the GAA to develop the socio-economic infrastructure in the GAA area. This amount would be provided as grant-in-aid and would be over and above the normal plan assistance to the State of West Bengal.
19.    Gorkhaland personnel (GLP) would be considered for recruitment in the Police, Army and Para-Military Forces.
Center not willing to hold meeting with Ghising
KalimNews: GNLF Chief Subhas Ghising succeeded in meeting Home Minister P Chidambaram  in New Delhi. But Chidambaram replied in negative to Ghising's request for including him in the tripartite talks. Instead Chidambaram clearly stated that Ghising may give suggestions for any solutions or proposals but in view of the progress so far made in solving the Darjeeling and Gorkha issue center is not ready to include anyone in the talks other than Morcha. 
Meanwhile TMC Chief Mamata Banerjee is likely to visit Darjeeling after the Monsoon session of Parliament. Parliament Session will conclude on 24h August.
Ghising a spent force, says GJM
TH, KOLKATA: Subash Ghising, the Gorkha National Liberation Front (GNLF) president, should not “jeopardise” the progress of tripartite talks with the Centre and the State Government if he wants to return to the Darjeeling hills, the Gorkha Janamukti Morcha (GJM) leadership has cautioned.
The GJM leadership claimed that Mr. Ghising, whose hegemony in the region had lasted more than two decades since the mid-1980s, has become “irrelevant to local politics” and any meeting between him and the Centre would “not have any impact” on the political future of the Darjeeling hills.
It was reacting to the GNLF chief calling on the Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram in New Delhi on Wednesday.
“The outcome of any meeting he may have with the Centre will not have a bearing in the hills where he is a refugee, being himself unable to return to what was once his turf after being rejected by the people here”, senior GJM central committee member, Harka Bahadur Chettri, told The Hindu over telephone.
Mr. Ghising has been in political limbo ever since he was forced out of Darjeeling in July 2008, nine months after the GJM entered the political scenario replacing the GNLF as the principal political force in the region. His one-time protégé, Bimal Gurung, is the GJM president.
“We are also confident that unless the Centre props him in some way or the other Mr. Ghising on his own is irrelevant to local politics. He is a spent force”, Mr. Chettri said.
As a political entity in the Darjeeling hills the GNLF has been severely marginalised. Earlier this week Gaulan Lepcha, the MLA from Kalimpong who was elected on GNLF ticket, joined the GJM – the most recent setback to the Front.
Invitation for GNLF
In a bid to bring the non-GJM parties into the dialogue process to discuss the proposal for an interim administrative set up for the Darjeeling hills, the West Bengal Government had invited the GNLF to talks here on Tuesday. The GNLF, however, did not join the discussions.
Meanwhile, in response to an appeal by the State Government to call off the relay hunger strike by its volunteers, the leadership of the Akhil Bharatiya Gorkha League – an opponent of the GJM -- announced “suspending” for a month the relay fast that entered its 12 day.
Other Voices
Editorial, TT, 5 Aug: Only in a democracy, minority voices can hope to be heard. There is thus nothing wrong with the West Bengal government talking to smaller parties in order to end the stalemate in Darjeeling. So long have the hills been in turmoil that any move to involve more players should add to the search for a political consensus. Both the Centre and the state governments erred in the past by talking only to the dominant political force in Darjeeling, ignoring other voices. This happened while Subash Ghishing’s Gorkha National Liberation Front was the main player in the hills. The same thing happened with the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha, which is unquestionably the leading player in Darjeeling now. Neither New Delhi nor Calcutta can hope to find a solution to the Darjeeling imbroglio without taking the GJM into confidence. That does not mean, however, that other voices should not be heard. The GJM, too, should not see the state government’s parleys with other parties as a threat to its supremacy in Darjeeling. The murder of Madan Tamang, the former president of the Akhil Bharatiya Gorkha League, sometime back, pointed to the dangers of the politics of intolerance and violence that had prevailed in Darjeeling for long. Darjeeling needs pluralist politics as much as any other place.
However, the important question for the common people in Darjeeling is not which party rules the place but how soon a solution to the problem is found. And it should be clear that the problem is primarily one of identity politics and not of development. Since the formation of the Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council, both the Centre and the state governments have given it a considerable amount of funds. Mr Ghishing may not have done enough to ensure that the funds were properly utilized. But it was the cry for a separate state that led to his downfall, just as it had once made him popular. The GJM leaders clearly want everything to stop in Darjeeling until a separate state is formed there. But they have made things more complicated by wanting parts of the Dooars and the Terai to be included in their proposed state. In doing so, they have actually added unclear dimensions to their identity politics. For there are other contestants for this brand of politics in the Dooars and the Terai. Uncharted boundaries for an expanding Gorkhaland may not be a workable idea.
Academy eye on Sikkim- Bhaichung to write to govt for land
TT, Gangtok, Aug. 4: Bhaichung Bhutia is considering setting up his “dream” football academy in Sikkim and will soon approach the state government with a request for land, though he has already been offered a plot of 30 acres by the Madhya Pradesh government for the same.
“Bhaichung and his Bollywood friend John Abraham are serious about setting up a football academy in Sikkim. The Indian football captain wants to give his home state the first preference,” said Arjun Rai, a close friend of Bhaichung.
Rai had met Bhaichung and John in Mumbai on July 30 and the three had deliberated on the academy.
“The Madhya Pradesh government has already offered 30 acres of land to Bhaichung but he is more interested in Sikkim. He wants to uplift the football standard of his home state and promote budding talents all over the nation through the academy,” said Rai, an accounts officer in the Sikkim rural development department.
Rai said Bhaichung would submit an application to the state sports department this month, seeking land for the academy.
How much land Bhaichung needs for the academy?
Rai said a minimum of 10 acres would be appropriate, considering the hilly terrain and lack of free land in Sikkim.
An academy must have at least two grounds and Bhaichung wants to have both artificial turf and natural grass grounds along with a hostel fully equipped with gym and other facilities for the players, said Rai. “Bhaichung wants his dream project, the football academy, to be the best in the country.”
The Indian captain has already asked Philip De Rider, a former Belgian coach of East Bengal, to join him in the academy, said Rai.
According to Rai, Bhaichung and John will come to Sikkim in October to pursue the request with the state government. The football captain will soon be returning to Portugal where he will join the Indian squad and will be busy with national duty till September.
“John is very much interested in the project and has promised Bhaichung all help,” said Rai.
Bhaichung had first spoken about his dream project of a football academy during a programme at Paljor Stadium here in November 2008.
“I am working on a project for some time. It’s my dream to set up a football academy in India when I retire from professional football. I will be soon approaching different state governments for this,” Bhaichung had said.
Youth held with pipegun in court
TT, Siliguri, Aug. 4: A 28-year-old youth was caught with an illegal firearm on the Jalpaiguri district court premises today.
Police are, however, clueless about the intention of Prasanta Roy, a resident of Subhas Unnayan Pally in Jalpaiguri.
Around 1pm, some people spotted Prasanta standing near the law clerks’ rooms.
“He had a pipegun on his waist and anybody looking at him could easily make out that he was carrying a weapon,” a witness said.
As the people started quizzing him on what he was carrying, Prasanta appeared confused. Within minutes, the crowd overpowered him and called police.
Officers from Kotwali police station, around 200 metres away, reached the spot shortly and arrested the youth. By then, a large crowd of people, lawyers, litigants and others had gathered there.
After his arrest, Prasanta appeared baffled and claimed himself to be the driver of Joydip Mukherjee, a businessman and a resident of Nayabustypara in town.
“I brought him (Mukherjee) to the court on his car. After parking the vehicle, he handed over the gun to me and asked me to keep it for some time. He said he was going to meet a lawyer,” the youth told the police.
However, no key of a vehicle was found on him.
The officers took Prasanta to the police station. “We are not completely buying the story narrated by Prasanta,” an officer said. “We will interrogate him further and, if necessary, his employer may be arrested. The firearm seized was illegal and did not have the licence.”
Court sources said shortly after Prasanta was arrested, Mukherjee left the premises with his vehicle. Since then, he could not be contacted.
Cop gets axe for firing-Murder case against two land officials
TT, Islampur, Aug. 4: The inspector in-charge of Islampur police station was suspended for his alleged dereliction of duty after a guardian had been killed and two others had suffered bullet injuries in police firing at a school near here on July 29.
Order to suspend Krishnendu Mukherjee reached the district superintendent of police Milan Kanti Das from the office of the director-general of police last night.
With Mukherjee’s punishment, the total number of police personnel suspended after the July 29 incident has risen to eight. Two sub-inspectors, one assistant sub-inspector and four constables had been benched earlier.
A case under Section 302 IPC (punishment for murder) has also been started against additional district magistrate-cum-district land reforms officer Kamalkrishna Chakraborty and block land reforms officer (BLRO) Biswadip Banerjee on the basis of a complaint lodged by the headmaster of Srikrishnapur High School, 7km from here.
District magistrate Sunil Dandapat said the role of the two officers was not above suspicion. “A report has been sent to the home department.”
The trouble started around 2pm on July 29 when Ganesh Gayen, a clerk with the refugee rehabilitation department, armed with an order from the additional district magistrate, went to take possession of a one-acre plot of land in front of the school.
Gayen was accompanied by the BLRO and four police constables. On seeing the persons measuring the land, the teachers and the students of the school raised protest, which followed a heated exchange.
Soon a crowd gathered in front of the school and the BLRO and the policemen were dragged and locked in a room. The mob attacked the policemen who came to rescue the officers and torched their vehicles, forcing the men in khaki to open fire. A guardian of the student was killed and two others suffered injuries in the firing.
The district police chief today said: “We received complaints of mismanagement against the IC in handling the situation. The incident could have been avoided if he had remained alert and active.”
Das said the IC should have assessed the situation beforehand and adequate policemen should have been deployed on the spot to avert the violence. The BLRO had also asked for reinforcement, but the IC had ignored it. “The inspector-general (special) of police, R. Ramesh Babu who visited the spot on that day to assess what had led to the police firing, recommended the IC’s suspension,” he said.
Mukherjee will remain suspended pending a depatmental inquiry and will get half of his salary during the period, sources said. He, refused to talk to the media.
Congress chairperson of the Islampur Municipality Kanailal Agarwal alleged that huge money was involved in the deal between the land owner and the land reforms officials and the police.
Scat test raises tiger hope in Buxa forest
TT, Alipurduar, Aug. 4: The Buxa Tiger Reserve has more big cats than what is thought to be, the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology has said.
The Hyderabad-based centre sent a report to the principal chief conservator of forests (PCCF-wildlife) and the field director of the Buxa Tiger Reserve after conducting DNA tests in its laboratory on scat samples sent by foresters.
Of the 83 scat samples tested, 33 were “definitely” of tiger origin, the report said. More tests are being carried out on these “tiger-positive” samples to determine their genetic identity, the report added.
Sighting Royal Bengal tigers in the reserve is very rare and far between. On March 24, beat officer Manindra Sarkar could spot a tiger and even managed to capture a photograph on his camera.
“This is the first time that such an intensive scat collection drive was taken up in March and 83 samples were sent for DNA tests to Hyderabad. From the 33 positive samples, we expect there will be at least 20 tigers as some of the samples could be repeated,” said R.P. Saini, the field director of the reserve.
He said the reserve had been facing a lot of criticism as there was hardly any sighting of tiger and when the beat officer captured a big cat on camera there was a sense of relief among the foresters.
In 2007, a census conducted by the Wildlife Institute of India had put the number of tigers in Buxa at 12.
“In forests like Kaziranga, Kanha, Ranthambhor, there are grasslands and open areas where tigers are often sighted. The dense and high forest in Buxa has made setting of camera traps difficult,” Saini said.
“The National Tiger Conservation Authority has assured us digital cameras for setting up traps in areas from where the positive samples were collected,” Saini said, adding that the PCCF had also sanctioned Rs 30 lakh to improve grassland.
The director said this year the scat collection would start from the beginning of December and would target the areas that had not been covered earlier.
DYFI too wants probe into teacher choice
TT, Siliguri, Aug. 4: The DYFI today came out in open against the final list for the recruitment of teachers by the district primary school council with a delegation of the CPM youth wing demanding a probe into allegation of nepotism in the process.
Following the publication of the final list by the council for the recruitment of over 1,000 primary teachers in Jalpaiguri district, supporters of the DYFI and the SFI had alleged in private that eligible candidates had not been considered and jobs had been cornered by the relatives of CPM leaders.
But today, around 25 DYFI workers, led by leaders like Biplab Jha and Girindranath Dutta, submitted a memorandum to the Jalpaiguri district magistrate, demanding a probe into the recruitment drive.
“We want a proper investigation into the recruitment process. The administration must ensure that there is no confusion in the final list,” said a DYFI leader.
Sources said CPM leaders had faced protests from DYFI and SFI members, who alleged that deserving applicants could not find a berth in final list. They also alleged that CPM leaders had got two-three relatives each included in the job list. One name they mentioned was that of Krishna Kishore Jha, a leader of the CPM-dominated All Bengal Teachers’ Association. His daughter Punam, son Kaushal, son-in-law Pawan and nephew Santosh have found a place in the final merit list.
Jha, however, said save his son, others could not be considered as his “family members”.
The Youth Congress today continued with its demonstrations to demand the cancellation of the merit list and the resignation of Mrinal Pal, the council chairman.
Youth Congress members assembled on DBC Road in Jalpaiguri and shouted slogans in front of Subodh Sen Bhawan, the CPM office. Traffic was disrupted and the protesters burnt an effigy of state school education minister Partha Dey before dispersing.
The Trinamul Congress, on the other hand, said a list of 168 deserving candidates, who were denied the jobs, had been submitted to the district magistrate with relevant details.
“We submitted a list of candidates to the district magistrate today and sought her intervention. She has assured all steps from her end,” said Chandan Bhowmik, the secretary general of Jalpaiguri district Trinamul Congress. “Members of our youth wing has been sitting on a dharna in front of the council office for the past six days,” he added.
Vandana Yadav, the district magistrate, said she was looking into the matter. “We have received several memoranda, pointing out the omission of eligible candidates from the final list. However, no individual complaint has been lodged with me. The administration will definitely take care if such complaints are made. Nevertheless, we are looking into the issue,” said Yadav.
The district CPM leadership continued to keep mum, while the council chairman was unavailable for comment. 
Youth kills sister
TT, Alipurduar, Aug. 4: A youth hacked his 16-year-old sister to death today at Kalipur in Falakata, enraged over the girl’s alleged affair with a local resident.
Police said Chiranjit Das had been telling his sister that she was tarnishing the family’s reputation by having a relationship with a local youth. This morning, the siblings had a quarrel and Chiranjit asked his sister to leave the house. “Suddenly he lost his temper and picked up a sharp weapon. The girl started to flee, but she was caught and hacked to death by Das. He also injured his youngest sister, who had come to the rescue of her sister. The injured girl was hospitalised,” said an investigating officer. Chiranjit later surrendered before Falakata police.
Officer arrested for bribery
TT, Malda: The district leprosy officer of Malda, Biplab Dasgupta, was arrested on Wednesday while accepting a bribe of Rs 20,000 and a mobile handset for renewing the licence of a nursing home. Chief medical officer of health Srikanta Roy said he did not believe that the officer, who is in-charge of renewing licences of private nursing homes, would accept bribe and alleged that Dasgupta was the victim of a conspiracy.
CPM vs Cong -bullets hit two
Islampur: Two persons were hit by stray bullets and four others were injured when two groups led by the CPM and the Congress clashed near Kaliganj High School on Wednesday. Supporters of both parties had taken out processions for the August 8 managing committee election of the institution, 30km from here. The injured were taken to the Dalua block health centre. The two with bullet injuries were referred to the subdivisional hospital here.
Silent Bengal tops teen mother list, New Delhi, Aug. 4: Bengal has the largest proportion of teenage mothers in the country, according to a data sheet prepared by the family planning division of the Union health ministry.
The grim statistics emerged on a day the Lok Sabha discussed ways to control population and some MPs found merit in Sanjay Gandhi’s iron-fist policy. But Union health minister Ghulam Nabi Azad hastened to say “once bitten, twice shy” to make clear forcible measures would not be adopted.
The data sheet, prepared ahead of the debate on population stabilisation in the Lok Sabha, said 14 per cent of births in Bengal were to women aged between 15 and 19.
It said 41 per cent of girls in Bengal were married below the age of 18 years, placing the state, along with Rajasthan, second from the top in illegal marriages. Only Bihar has a higher proportion of 46 per cent girls marrying before 18.
The data also came a day after crime figures revealed that Bengal had become more unsafe for women in 2008 compared to 2000.
Non-government population control activists believe that early marriages and births reflect lack of awareness and a failure of campaigns to reach areas where population control is most needed.
“In parts of the state, any discussion of sexual and reproductive health services is still a taboo among adolescents,” said Sahana Bhowmick, the branch manager with the Family Planning Association of India, Calcutta. “Educational campaigns about the risks of early pregnancy and options to space births have not reached grassroots — and people don’t talk about it,” Bhowmick told The Telegraph.
The health ministry data, based on district-level surveys in 2008, showed that Bihar had the lowest average age of marriage for girls — 17.6 years, followed by Rajasthan with 17.7 years. In Bengal, the average age of marriage was 18.5 years.
The data suggested that Bengal has the highest participation of males in sterilisation with 14 per cent of men undergoing vasectomies, followed by Punjab where 13.4 per cent men underwent the procedure.
But one non-government official involved in delivering population control services in Bengal said the state’s 14 per cent vasectomy figure was “difficult to believe”. In a clinic that the non-government agency operates, the official said, the vasectomy figure was less than 2 per cent.
Yet, Bengal is among eight states that appear to be on the threshold of achieving a total fertility ratio (TFR) of about 2.1 — a so-called replacement level of fertility in which women have just enough babies to replace themselves.
Andhra Pradesh, Goa, Himachal Pradesh, Karnataka, Kerala, Punjab and Haryana have achieved TFRs below 2.1. The poorest-performing states are Bihar, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh where TFR is 2.7 or higher.
Bhowmick said most women pregnant below 19 years of age usually visited state hospitals that are overcrowded with little infrastructure for reproductive health counselling. Doctors probably did the best they could to handle the pregnancy, she said, and had little time or the expertise to counsel the women about the disadvantages of early pregnancies.
But early births aren’t confined to eastern and northern India. Karnataka had the second highest proportion (11 per cent) of births to women below 19 years, while Andhra Pradesh had 10 per cent births to women below 19.
RTI power takes a lethal turn 
Raja Murthy, SNS: If information is power, India’s Right to Information Act (RTI) activists are bravely bringing power to the people – but at a fatal cost to themselves. Amit Jethwa was shot dead outside the Ahmedabad High Court on 20 July, the ninth RTI-related murder in the past six months.
An environmental activist who was called The Green Crusader, 32-year old Jethwa was using the RTI Act to expose illegal mining in the Gir forest. His family accused a member of Parliament of plotting his murder. Another prominent RTI activist, Satish Shetty, was killed outside his house in Pune in January. Shetty was exposing the local real estate mafia.
Death threats are becoming a common plight for RTI applicants, the threats increasing with RTI power to expose corruption. Since becoming law in October 2005, the RTI Act has become one of India’s strongest democratic tools, ensuring greater accountability and transparency from those earning their salaries from the taxes we pay.
As an RTI activist said, we have to occasionally check on our servants, and the RTI Act gives us the chance to inspect our government servants.
SK Nangian, a veteran Mum bai-based RTI activist, told me the RTI is a more effective anti-corruption tool than public interest litigations. Litigations could be stuck in courts for years. With the RTI Act, citizens can expect information from government officials within 30 days. Or the Public Information Commissioner can be asked to step in.
Nangian, a retired executive, says the system works well enough to have fetched him responses to most of the 500-plus RTI applications he has filed. This unprecedented effectiveness in transparency has its dark side in corrupt officials, businessmen, politicians, police officers and bureaucrats flexing muscles to discourage inconvenient RTI applicants.
It’s worse in states like Jammu and Kashmir that are ranked among the most corrupt in India. Activists of the “Jammu and Kashmir RTI Movement’’ say people are often threatened barely hours after filing any probing RTI application. J&K has its own RTI Act, but the state government has been dawdling over implementing necessary supporting mechanisms such as the Chief Information Commissioner for the state. Yet activists in J&K like Dr Muzaffar Bhatt are determined to fight for the public right to information, despite threats.
Mahesh Pandya, an environmental engineer and a leading Gujarat-based activist often in the “threatened’’ category, says RTI efforts are worth the risk. “Of course, we protested injustices before, but the RTI gives us information, evidence and a state-backed machinery to sustain the argument and continue an agitation,” he says. “Most importantly, we have now understood the working of our government – how decisions are made and what we as citizens can do, in the larger democratic process.”
Pandya says the current RTI movement in India can be called a “RTI Revolution’’. “The RTI makes it compulsory for officials to maintain their records for any form of perusal,” he says. “Also, several policy reforms were initiated because of activism through the RTI – all towards greater transparency of our government mechanisms.”
Pandya works with the Ahmedabad-based organization Paryavaran Mitra, meaning “Friends of the Environment’’. Paryavaran Mitra has filed over 300 RTI applications on various socio-environmental issues. Its major exposes included eleven mega-shopping malls being built in the SG Highway in Ahmedabad without necessary environment clearances. The Paryavaran Mitra RTI ensured the State Pollution Control Board acted to ensure compliance.
India appears one of the busiest countries in the world in using the RTI. Revelations through RTI applications appear almost daily in newspapers and other media. Indian RTI activists are giving a brisk new dimension to public access to information laws that first appeared in the world over 200 years ago. Sweden enacted the “Freedom of the Press Act’’ in 1776. Over 40 countries, including the USA, Japan, the UK, the European Union, Brazil and Pakistan, have passed RTI laws, and about 30 other countries are in the process of doing so.
As RTI gathers momentum as a powerful dimension to democracy, ensuring protection to RTI applicants must become the next urgent step. Stronger anti-corruption measures have to be part of a country with a trillion-dollar economy, and India is poised to become a two trillion-dollar-economy within five years. Confidentiality mechanisms must be built into the RTI process, ensuring protection similar to the Income Tax Department and the Anti-Corruption Bureaus offering anonymity to informants.
Associations such as the National RTI Forum offer one advice on how to handle RTI-related threats: have 15 others, better if they are scattered across the country, apply to the same public authority asking for the same information. If they too are threatened, then have 15 more people file the same RTI application.
Crooked governance cannot be cured without whistle-blowers, and the RTI Act is a loud, credible anti-corruption whistle. Despite threats to their lives, many RTI activists are fighting to protect our rights, to protect democracy. It’s time the country ensures they get protection in return.

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