Sunday, October 15, 2000,
Chandigarh, India


E D I T O R I A L   P A G E


What’s wrong with our prisons?
Complaints of overcrowding, unexplained deaths, attempts to escape at the time of production before trial courts or for medical attention and use of modern electronic gadgets to defy "isolation" have been on the rise in almost all the fortified prisons of Delhi, Haryana, Punjab, Himachal Pradesh and Chandigarh.


by Harihar Swarup
Fighting stifling of dissent
OES the Communist movement in India needs a glasnost? It does and needs it most urgently. Unfortunately, there is no Indian version of a Gorbachev and, those who have shown sign of dissent, have been suppressed. The Communist movement has not grown since the great split in the Communist Party of India in 1964 and rising of the Communist Party of India — Marxist (CPM). On the contrary, the Left parties have been on the decline. 


A partial solution 
October 14, 2000
A status quo verdict 
October 13, 2000
No credit to policy
October 12, 2000
The law catches up
October 11, 2000
War drums in West Asia
October 10, 2000
Mamata’s own oil shock
October 9, 2000
What ails the veiled women of Haryana
October 8, 2000
Paddy is not for burning
October 7, 2000
Defence deal with Russia
October 6, 2000
A happy day for SAD
October 5, 2000


Atal’s interests — Uma, quiz, tigers...
HE personal side of the Prime Minister, Mr Atal Behari Vajpayee, was under public scrutiny during the first few days of his admission to the Breach Candy Hospital in Mumbai. Since he had no official work to do on the day of his knee operation and the night before, speculation arose on how he spent this time. When enterprising scribes got down to find out the details, they were in for a surprise.


More Asian faces on British TV?
From Shyam Bhatia in London
BRITAIN may not see a non-white as Prime Minister in the foreseeable future, but commercial pressures may result in more Asian and coloured faces on television screens. This follows a pledge by British television chiefs to hire more Asians and coloured people following evidence that ethnic minority viewers are abandoning mainstream terrestrial channels in favour of cable and satellite.



What’s wrong with our prisons?
A Tribune survey

Complaints of overcrowding, unexplained deaths, attempts to escape at the time of production before trial courts or for medical attention and use of modern electronic gadgets to defy "isolation" have been on the rise in almost all the fortified prisons of Delhi, Haryana, Punjab, Himachal Pradesh and Chandigarh.

These prisons, unlike yesteryears, have now been housing not only political bigwigs but also senior bureaucrats, technocrats, academicians and others. Interestingly, these inmates are lodged in these high security jails not because of political reasons but because of either criminal cases registered against them or subsequent to their conviction in criminal cases.

In a landmark judgment the Punjab and Haryana High Court ruled against any classification of convicts and undertrials on the basis of their social status, education or other standing. This order to abolish classification of inmates is being challenged by the Punjab Government in the Supreme Court.

In Chandigarh, former Secretary, Engineering-cum-Chief Engineer K.K. Jerath; Home Secretary N.K. Jain; and Registrar of Panjab University, Dr Sodhi Ram, have all been lodged in Burail Jail as they face trial in criminal cases.

Most of the prisons in the region have scores of hardened Kashmiri and Punjab militants. In Amritsar Central Jail, the biggest prison of Punjab, there are a large number of Pakistanis, Bangladeshis and Afghans.

Only a couple of weeks ago, an assistant superintendent of Burail Central Jail in Chandigarh was apprehended while trying to fax a hand written message of an undertrial to his contact abroad. Similar cases have been reported from elsewhere in the region where use of cellphones, pagers and other such gadgets, besides Internet, have been frequently "used" to keep the inmates in touch with their contacts in the "outside world".

Some of the escapes, including of militants or their harbourers and aides, have been traced back to use of these gadgets from within "jail premises".

Alarmed at the increasing incidents of such attempts and frequent complaints of smuggling into prison premises drugs and other contraband items, feeble attempts have been made to provide alternatives to keep undertrials and convicts free from this menace. At some of the jails, health camps, yoga camps and other activities are being organised in cooperation with NGOs . But these activities are not enough.

Interestingly, a look at the figure reveals that number of inmates in jails, both in Punjab and Haryana, is on the decline. But ground realities are otherwise. All prisons are overcrowded.


Huge boundary walls, tall watch towers and a large posse of armed guards fail to prevent ‘‘dons’’ from calling shots or order killings and kidnappings from inside ‘‘high-security’’ Central Tihar Jail in Delhi. Many a ‘high profile’ prisoners, had been here.

Many dreaded gangsters, undertrials or convicts freely flaunt hi-tech gadgets like cellphones and pagers smuggled into the jail premises with the connivance of some unscrupulous jail staff.

According to Tihar Jail sources, mobile phones are smuggled inside the prisons by convicts or undertrials hidden inside food packets and inside the material supplied to the in house canteen of the jail.

The cell phones are used to manipulate court cases, to eliminate their rivals, to extort money from big businessmen and also order kidnappings while in court confinement.

Once the mobile phones are smuggled in, the criminals bribe jail officials to supply SIM cards for them. SIM cards are hidden inside wrist watches for a thousand-rupee bribe, they say.

A year back, two crime cases in Delhi traced back to Jassa, one of the hardcore criminals, in Tihar. One was the killing of his associate Amarjit Singh, with whom he a robbery attempt by a five-member gang led by Palwinder Singh, who had been in touch with criminals in Tihar, including Jassa.

Terrorists lodged in Tihar also use cell-phones to smuggle arms and explosives into India. Last year, 18 kilograms of high quality RDX and several AL-56 rifles were seized from Punjabi Bagh in West Delhi. They had been smuggled in from Nepal. According to Crime Branch officials, those arrested had been in touch with Daya Singh Lahoria and Mohkam Singh, Babbar Khalsa militants in Tihar.

Another menace in the high-security prison is smuggling of drugs. According to a jail official, a lot of drug addicts are in Jail No 2 of Tihar and many of them manage to get their daily doses in connivance with some jail staff.

Recently, during a surprise check some cellphones and a small quantity of drugs were seized by the Jail authorities. Consequently, two Assistant Superintendent, two Head Wardens, a Chief Head Warden and a Sepoy were suspended, Jail sources said.

Another problem the jail officials often face is infighting between different groups of prisoners, over petty matters.

Tihar Jail Complex, one of the largest in the world, comprises five prisons with a total population of around 10,000 prisoners at any given point of time against the normal capacity for 3,237 prisoners.

About 50,000 to 60,000 prisoners remain lodged in these five prisons at different points of time during a year. About 90 per cent of these are undertrials, including about 400 women-prisoners with about 70 children below six years of age dependent upon them. About 200 prisoners are foreigners.

Inmates include Manu Sharma, Sushil Sharma and Romesh Sharma who may still be joined by Mr P.V. Narasimha Rao Mr Buta Singh.


The Hisar Central Jail has more than 1400 inmates, including undertrials, though the capacity is for 700 inmates.

Against norms, requiring about 250 policemen to guard the jail, there are only 81 policemen posted at the jail against the sanctioned strength of 100.

A daring jailbreak saw three convicts and an undertrial escaping from the jail in February last. Three of them were later arrested from Rajasthan. One of them is still at large.

The inmates are not satisfied with the hospital facilities. They say that though the hospital is equipped to treat minor ailments only, inmates are sent to the Civil Hospital only when their condition becomes acute.

Though officials deny the charge, it is alleged that till recently several inmates had mobile phones while many others had free access to the jail telephone. However, after the

Mahendragarh jail breakup security has been tightened inside the jail. Visitors are now questioned and frisked before meeting the inmates. These simple measures were unheard of till a month ago.

Despite overcrowding, the inmates have no complaints against food given to them. A panel of five prisoners were recently constituted to oversee the working of the kitchen. The panel not only draws food items from the store but also supervises preparation and distribution.

Dr Ved Prakash of SD Nature Cure Hospital, along with a Rotary Club recently organised a yoga camp at Ambala Central Jail.

Dr Ved Prakash said that the yoga camp was organised for an initial group of 100 prisoners. "We delivered a lecture on way of living, meditation and eating habits."

The ten-day camp dealt basically with introducing the prisoners to yoga which would help them both in body as well as in mind.

On an average more than 2,000 prisoners are lodged, against a sanctioned strength of 1,000 prisoners. The jail staff faces an uphill task in a scenario where attempts to escape has to be checked, the drug peddlers in the jail premises caught and an eye kept on the prisoners who are capable of creating trouble.

On April 1 this year, an undertrial , escaped after he was admitted to Civil Hospital, Ambala City. He was, however, later nabbed by jail officials.

On April 12, an undertrial escaped when he was being brought back to Ambala Central Jail from Jagadhri. A day before, the undertrial, Laxmi Narain, had been taken to Jagadhri. Laxmi Narain, gave the guards the slip when they were returning.

On May 22, a prisoner in Ambala Central Jail, escaped by crossing the 20-foot-high boundary wall early in the morning. Five other prisoners, who were also involved in the attempt, were nabbed by the jail officials, on the spot. Phoola Singh of Panipat, after being chased by the prison guards, entered into the nearby Air Force area by crossing the fence. The Air Force security guards immediately nabbed him.

It is not just escape attempts, even fights breaking out among prisoners is a problem for the jail staff. On April 20, Bajir Singh, an undertrial lodged at the same jail, succumbed to his injuries at PGI Chandigarh. Two days prior to his death, five prisoners lodged in the jail were injured allegedly in a scuffle between two groups in the jail premises.

A serious problem is of drug peddling. On June 26, a jail warden Sandeep Kumar was apprehended with 980 tablets, which are used by drug addicts. On July 6, barely two weeks after the wardens' arrest, a convict, Prem Kumar, was caught by the jail security officials when he was allegedly trying to get drugs during "interview" time.

Himachal Pradesh

Strict monitoring by the Human Rights Commission and courts have brought about much improvement in the conditions and management of prisons in Himachal Pradesh in recent years. However, a majority of them still lack the basic amenities like proper barracks, kitchen and lavatories, not to speak of recreation and sports facilities. Worse, most of the jails remain overcrowded most of the time putting further strain on the existing amenities. The perennial shortage of staff adds to the problem.

Constructed during the British days mot of the jail buildings are in a dilapidated condition. Those in Shimla, Una, Kulu, Hamirpur and Chamba do not even conform to the standards laid down in the jail manual. The inmates are packed in dingy, damp and ill maintained barracks. The old buildings are crumbling.

The only exception has been the Bilaspur jail which was built anew in 1961 when the old township was submerged under the Gobindsagar. Besides, the recently constructed high security prisons at Nahan, Dharamsala and Kanda also have modern buildings.

Against the total capacity of about 500 each, over 750 prisoners each are lodged in various jails in the state. Those at Dharamsala, Shimla, Kulu, Una, solan and Nahan are always overcrowded. For instance, at Una the number of inmates mostly remains over 40 as against the capacity of 14. As per norms one latrine has to be provided for every six prisoners but here only 3 are available, each of which is shared by 14 to 15 persons. Similarly, in Dharamsala against a capacity of 58, the number of prisoners at any time ranges from 110 to

120 who share a dozen latrines. In Kaithua jail, the number of prisoners goes up to 60 against a capacity of 29. In Kulu and Solan too the situation is no different and the number of prisoners is almost double the capacity.

The central jail at Nahan also remains overcrowded with an average of 190 to 200 inmates against a capacity of 148.

There was a solitary instance of two inmates escaping from the Hamirpur jail after cutting the iron bars last year. Only one of them was rearrested within hours. In another case, a prisoner managed to scale the security wall of the Bilaspur jail using the trunk of a tree about 8 years ago but he was nabbed again.

Mr INS Sandhu, head of the prison department, feels that besides overcrowding, the main problem was to carry the prisoners for hearing from jails to courts located at far off places. Provision of lock ups at places where courts were located could solve this problem to a great extent.


The Amritsar Central Jail, biggest jail of Punjab has been declared 'camp jail' for foreign nationals. The jail has 1811 convicts, internees and under-trials, including about 100 women. At present about 50 Pakistani Nationals have been 'languishing' here.

Justice V.K. Jhanji of the Punjab and Haryana High Court has directed the jail authorities to hand over them to government of Pakistan by the end of November. Apart from them some Bangladeshis and Afghan Nationals are also lodged in the jail.

There is no "A" class inmate while only 12 prisoners have been put in the "B" class.

The availability of small quantity of drugs inside the jail could not be ruled out as the jail authorities had lodged some "FIR's" against relatives of inmates who tried to smuggle some narcotics into the jail.

The 133-year-old Jalandhar Central Jail building has been a mute witness to its gradual decay and has been rattled by problems like over crowding, poor upkeep and even allegations of connivance of the inmates and the jail staff in malpractices.

Originally designed to house just 600 inmates, at present the jail has 1063 inmates.

Two barracks have already been declared unsafe by the PWD after the last month's routine check up of the building. The jail authorities, according to the Superintendent Mr Jagjit Singh, were planning to shift the jail out of the city, for which the process of acquisition of land was under way.

Though there has been no known attempt of jail break in the past, the Central Jail has been in the thick of controversy over alleged death of two inmates in custody in the month of May and nexus between the jail staff and inmates, which, however, was denied by Mr Jagjit Singh. So much so, that an inmates Sukhwinder Singh Binder, who is at present on bail, had levelled allegations against a Deputy Superintendent saying the latter had directed him to locate a mobile phone provided by him to an and terrorist Jasbir Singh jassa, after Jassa had managed to escape from the custody of police from Nabha last month.

He had further alleged that he was threatened and beaten up by the jail staff after he failed to locate the mobile phone on the directions of the Deputy Superintendent. Another controversy which had rocked the jail recently was the death of two inmates Rajinder Kumar and Dalip Singh on May 18 and May 25 respectively in the jail premises. Family members and relatives of the deceased had alleged that the two had died due to maltreatment by the jail staff and their failure to provide them with timely medication.. Denying the allegations, Mr Jagjit Singh said, the two had died owing to heart failure which had been established in the post-mortem report and a probe held by the SDM after the incident.

At Bathinda Central Jail, there are 1388 undertrials and convicts against the capacity of 500.

In a barrack, more than 200 inmates have been languishing against the capacity of 48 only. Similarly, against the capacity of three to five persons in a cell, eleven inmates are staying there.

No attempt of escape has been reported so far. The jail officials have written to higher authorities for transferring about 200 inmates to other jails of Punjab.

Sources said that instead of shifting inmates from here, the authorities concerned have started shifting convicts from other jails to this jail.

The Faridkot central jail, which has been declared unsafe, has also created problems as about 50 convicts and under trials from there have been transferred to this jail. As many as nine women, who were permanent inmates of Women Jail, Ludhiana, have also been shifted to this jail in the recent past.

The Bathinda central jail has also been catering to the needs of Mansa district where the sub jail had been abolished in 1984. There is immediate need of a lady doctor as the total strength of women inmates in this jail is more than 60.

Official sources said that most of the under trials languishing in this jail had been booked by the police under NDPS Act for their alleged involvement in the smuggling of narcotics.

While most of the inmates have no health problems, only one inmate, who was booked under NDPS Act, had become a full blown case of AIDS. He had been in this jail for the last two years.

One tends to get deceived by the quiet and calm atmosphere that engulfs the Central Jail Ludhiana. For only an insight into life behind the four walls can prove the first impression wrong.

From over-crowding of inmates to allegations of drug trafficking, from shortage of funds to run the prison to allegations of favoritism and victimisation of the prisoners, several types of disturbing incidents keep on taking place inside.

The jail is virtually bursting at the seams. Having a capacity of less than 1500 the prison has, at present, about 1650 inmates. Of these about 1150 are undertrials while the remaining are prisoners.

The overcrowding in the jail is largely due to the high number of undertrials. They languish in jails for months and even years altogether thanks to the slow litigation process. Most of these are migrant labourers who, in the absence of persons to provide Bail Surety, have to remain behind bars till the disposal of their case.

The peace is also marred by allegations — the inmates allege that the authorities violate their human rights; the authorities counter-allege that the allegations are nothing but pressure tactics to get small benefits in the jail.

The jail is facing a serious threat from the drug-traffickers. Sources revealed that the inmates invent new methods of bringing drugs into the jails. The involvement of jail officials in supplying the drugs cannot be ruled out even though there were no figures available for action taken against any one. An official revealed that on few occasions some officials helping an inmate were caught but then they were let off with a warning.

The official revealed that the relatives of the inmates also indulge in supplying drugs to them, whenever they visit the jail.

Recently, one of the inmate was caught with a tin of desi ghee which had drug tablets in it.

Besides the District Jail, Sangrur has two sub-jails at Barnala and Malerkotla. Each jail has its own problems.

The authorities claim that no prisoner or undertrial had escaped from any jail premises during the past several years. However, two undertrials had escaped from Malerkotla sub-jail in 1985 but they had been caught within 24 hours while two undertrials of the Sangrur district jail escaped this year. One of them Simratpal Singh escaped from the hospital in April and the other Sarwan Singh escaped in January when he was taken to the court.

The Sangrur district jail has a capacity of 350 inmates but it accommodates more than 650 inmates, leading to overcrowding in the jail which leads to sanitation and sewerage problems because small sewerage lines do not fulfil the needs of all inmates and remain chocked.

Besides, the water supply pipe lines are old and rusty, which at times leak.

The Sangrur jail has also been facing financial problems. It is yet to pay its electricity bill of Rs 4 lakh for the past four months. Besides, no renovation white wash work in the jail could be undertaken during the past one decade. The jail has only two sweepers to keep its premises clean. It also faces shortage of medicines.

The Langar building was constructed in Sangrur jail for only 350 inmates several decades ago but no expansion since then had been made to accommodate more than 650 inmates.

There are four convicts and 20 undertrials in the B-class, and 138 convicts, including 11 women, and 508 undertrials, including 44 women, in the C-class.

The jail authorities, however, do not rule out the possibilities of inmates maintaining contacts with the outside world with the help of Jail staff through messages.

The Barnala sub jail has now 189 inmates against the capacity of 250. It has no B-class prisoner or undertrial. There are now 10 prisoners and 179 undertrials in the C-class.

The Malerkotla sub jail has a capacity of 100 inmates but currently there are 79 inmates including 78 C-class undertrials. Besides, the jail has no B-class prisoner or undertrial. The jail staff is residing in the old and almost dilapidated quarters though four new barracks were constructed for the inmates a few years ago.

All in all, the whole situation cries for cleaning the Augen stables in the prison cells across the country. Admittedly it is a Herculean task.

With inputs from Prabhjot Singh (Chandigarh), S. Satyanarayan (New Delhi), Raman Mohan (Hisar), Rahul Dass (Ambala), Rakesh Lohumi (Shimla), Varinder Walia (Amritsar), Varinder Singh (Jalandhar), Jupinderjit Singh (Ludhiana), Jangveer Singh (Patiala), Chander Parkash (Bathinda) and Sushil Goyal (Sangrur).


Fighting stifling of dissent
by Harihar Swarup

DOES the Communist movement in India needs a glasnost? It does and needs it most urgently. Unfortunately, there is no Indian version of a Gorbachev and, those who have shown sign of dissent, have been suppressed. The Communist movement has not grown since the great split in the Communist Party of India in 1964 and rising of the Communist Party of India — Marxist (CPM). On the contrary, the Left parties have been on the decline. The Marxists leadership has refused to change its style of functioning even though the Soviet Union collapsed and this led to widespread uneasiness even among the senior leaders.

One of them fighting the stifling of dissent and bad patches in the socialist movement since 1995 has been the young Saifuddin Choudhury, till recently member of the powerful Central Committee and four-term member of the Lok Sabha. Even though considered invincible, having never faced defeat, Choudhury was denied a ticket in the 1996 elections, ostensibly as a vendetta for campaigning for inner party democracy and, at times, attacking the leadership. In the communist system any criticism of those at the helm is considered blasphemy. Saifuddin has now been thrown out of the party.

Chaudhury lists, among other things, “failure to ensure plurality in society, lack of democratic functioning in the party, belief in over centralised economy”, particularly in the aftermath of the disintegration of the Soviet Union, as the reasons for the decline of Indian Communist parties. In addition, deterioration has also set in the Politburo. He feels that “all dictatorial means to achieve an objective should be abandoned because that will make the goal more elusive. Only democratic path can lead to success in any venture”.

He quotes the CPM leadership’s decision to reject the National Front’s offer to the West Bengal Chief Minister, Mr Jyoti Basu, to become the Prime Minister as an example. “We missed that chance in 1996 and belatedly accepted it was a mistake. The historic blunder (in the word of Mr Basu) was committed because of our theoretical rigidity and that the central leadership should now publicly express regret for the lapse”, he says.

A new expression— “democratic centralisation”—is often heard in Marxist circles but few know its nuance . According to Saifuddin “ in the centralised democracy things become formal, ritualistic and cannot revitalise the organisation”. He thinks it is a great deception and calls for “thorough overhaul “ of the system not by Marxists in India but in “ every existing Communist Party of the world”. Incidentally, the largest Communist party in the world is that of China. What “democratic centralisation” means to them ? Only the Chinese leaders answer the question. For his own erstwhile party, Saiduddin has a piece of advice: “Adopt democratic norms of functioning, arrive at a decision by unanimity or by the majority opinion”. Majority decision notwithstanding ,he emphatically says, “ the minority views should not be disrespected”.

Saifuddin is now only 48, dynamic and committed to the ideology inherited by him from his father. It is said figuratively that he was born with the hammer and sickle flag in his hands. His father Sorab Choudhury was a known Communist leader of Burdwan district and from childhood Saifuddin has seen the party leaders coming to his house and listened to animated discussion on ideological matters. He recalls “ I was very much impressed by the hammer and sickle flag and once tried to snatch it from a leader’s hand but I was admonished for the misadventure”. As a school-going boy ,he was assigned the task of taking the party workers to his house where food was served to them.

Saifuddin became an activist and a student leader even when he was in high school. The leadership quality proliferated when his father sent him to Calcutta University as a B.Sc student. He says “Calcutta was the hub of leftist movement and I could hear loudly and clearly the communist jargons, echo of which I have heard in my village”. He had to pay the price for his activism. Ousted from the university and his house, he became a dedicated party worker. His returned to Calcutta University in the mid-seventies, completed his B.A and became General Secretary of the Students Union in 1978 and held the post for two years. Come the 1980 general elections, the CPM leadership put 26-year- old Saifuddin as the party’s candidate and he returned with a comfortable majority.

Four terms in the Lok Sabha established Saifuddin as an able parliamentarian. It is difficult to think of the Lok Sabha from 1980 to 1996 without him. His outstanding contribution was during the debate on the Muslim women’s Bill in the wake of the famous Shah Banu case judgement. His point was that husbands should be made accountable for maintenance of their divorced wives and his now oft quoted remark was:” If I had power in my hands, I would have whipped husbands”.

The remark drew loud protest from many Muslim members and one of them belonging to the Lok Dal, Mahfooz Ali Khan, cautioned the young Marxist member: “ you are going against our religion (Islam), you will be sent to hell by the God for the blasphemy”.

Saifuddin retorted: “If I go to hell, I will turn it into heaven but where will you go”.

Saifuddin proposes to launch a socio-political forum by the end of October, which he proposes to convert into a political party before next year’s Assembly elections in West Bengal. He is in touch with like minded leaders and smaller parties like the Communist Revolutionary League. Married and having children, he lives in a rented apartment in a Delhi suburb and whenever in the union capital travels by bus. He does not have the affluence of a four-term M.P but is totally committed to the cause he espouses.


Atal’s interests — Uma, quiz, tigers...

THE personal side of the Prime Minister, Mr Atal Behari Vajpayee, was under public scrutiny during the first few days of his admission to the Breach Candy Hospital in Mumbai. Since he had no official work to do on the day of his knee operation and the night before, speculation arose on how he spent this time. When enterprising scribes got down to find out the details, they were in for a surprise.

The Prime Minister spent the night before his operation watching television. Nothing surprising about it. But what he watched was the interesting factor. Mr Vajpayee spent an entire hour watching the mega quiz show “Kaun Banega Crorepati”. It could not be ascertained how many questions the Prime Minister was able to answer.

On the next day, soon after his knee operation, Mr Vajpayee spent time reading a couple of magazines. He is understood to have asked for the interview in which firebrand Sanyasin Uma Bharti had allegedly confessed about her fascination for senior BJP leader K.N. Govindacharya.

His amusement must not have lasted long for he also read the gory details about how a tiger was skinned in Hyderabad. A report said that the Prime Minister picked up the phone and asked for an action taken report in two days. Some relaxation this!

One for the physician
Vajpayee did make news, but then so did the surgeon who operated on his knee. Dr Chittaranjan Ranawat, who was Dr who till a few days ago, was a much talked about man in the Capital. It was pointed out that the globe-trotting surgeon was indeed a VVIP doctor. He is also a consultant to the Pope.

There were uncharitable remarks too against the doctor. A grapevine said that Dr Ranawat had decided to perform the Prime Minister’s surgery in Mumbai as he did not get along well with the doctors in the All-India Institute of Medical Sciences. The AIIMS, it appears, had rejected him in an interview several years ago, and Dr Ranawat still holds a grudge against it.

Whether Dr Ranawat is a VVIP doctor or a reject from an Indian institution, the fact remains that the entire country is grateful to him for putting Prime Minister Vajpayee back in shape.

“Baang Maro” Laxman
The Bharatiya Janata Party President Bangaru Laxman seems to have rubbed many people the wrong way with his new ideas. For one, the new President wants the minorities to join hands with the party and participate in its progress. This has not gone well with the “Hindutva” elements in the party.

Reacting to the BJP President’s call, Shiv Sena supremo Bal Thackeray compared him with the rooster which gives the wake up call. He described him as “Baang Maro” Laxman.

Another detractor promptly corrected the description and added that the President should be called “Computerised Baang Maro Laxman”. The reason: he yoddles only when the Prime Minister asks him to do so.

Studying for the patient
Investment in medical education will finally benefit the patient. Medical experts who have planned the structure of Med Varsity, a joint venture of Apollo Group of Hospital and NIIT Limited are trying hard to convince that the Med Varsity offers coaching at very reasonable rates to those wishing to pursue postgraduate studies in medicine. At the launch of the Med Varsity here recently, its Vice-Chancellor, Dr Mahendra Bhandari, made a rather unquestionable observation. “If you find medical education expensive, try medical incompetence.” A senior consultant in urology and renal transplantation at Apollo Hospital, Hyderabad, Dr Bhandari said that if a doctor was better informed, patients would gain from better medicine practice.

No food no maintenance
It was meant to be a swanky restaurant which would cater to the needs of the scribes in the capital. Instead, the prestigious ITDC cafeteria at the Press Information Bureau is literally gathering dust for want of maintenance.

One is appalled to see that there is accumulated dirt and filth at the entrance gate as also in the cafeteria. The floor linoleum is worn out, window panes broken and covered with web laden dust. There is much reason for this state of shabby affairs.

Cleanliness and upkeep of the cafeteria is the responsibility of the PIB. However, it has not been forthcoming as the restaurant management has stopped free hospitality to the attending staff.

Originally, when the National Media Centre with attendant international media facilities, including ITDC Press Cafeteria, were planned by Mr Sam Pitroda in consultation with the then Prime Minister in 1989, it was decided that the bureau would maintain the upkeep of the cafeteria perceived to be the Government of India’s media interface.

Thanks to negligence of certain officials responsible for the maintenance, the cafeteria which once used to bustle with mediapersons, wears a deserted look.

With the economic editors conference due early next week, the cafeteria will definitely have a telling effect on the public image of the Government. Is anyone listening?

Capitalist woes
Capitalism has its advantages and disadvantages. Nobody has realised it better than the officials in the Russian Government. While the introduction of capitalism has led to the Russian President Vladimir Putin adopting a lifestyle that is at par with his Western counterparts, there is a deterioration in the Government machinery. This was noticed during the Russian President’s visit to India recently.

One glaring deficiency on the Russian side was the absence of good translators. One had to often struggle to know what the President was speaking. When asked what happened to all those top rate translators who used to accompany Russian leaders, an official quipped that they have been hired by multinational companies.

(Contributed by Satish Mishra, T.V. Lakshminarayan, Tripti Nath, S. Satyanarayanan and P.N. Andley)


More Asian faces on British TV?
From Shyam Bhatia in London

BRITAIN may not see a non-white as Prime Minister in the foreseeable future, but commercial pressures may result in more Asian and coloured faces on television screens.

This follows a pledge by British television chiefs to hire more Asians and coloured people following evidence that ethnic minority viewers are abandoning mainstream terrestrial channels in favour of cable and satellite.

Major television companies backing the ‘Cultural Diversity Network Manifesto’, which has the support of British Culture Secretary Chris Smith, say their aim is to increase the number of ethnic faces both on screen and behind the cameras.

The television companies involved are the BBC, ITV, Carlton Television, Granada Media, GMTV, ITN, Channel 4, Channel 5 and BSkyB. Each company is responsible for its own plan to reflect Britain’s emerging multicultural society, which includes new employment targets to recruit Asian and coloured actors.

‘‘Either we adapt or change what we do or what we do will become increasingly irrelevant for a vital part of the audience’’, said Clive Jones, chief executive of Carlton Television. ‘‘This country is facing a demographic revolution which means that this industry has to get its act together.’’

BBC Director General Greg Dyke, observing that the BBC was ‘‘very white’’, said, ‘‘We have to question why we haven’t made enough progress.’’

Both the BBC and ITV said they would produce programmes that have a wider appeal and also portray greater cultural diversity. Channel 4 and Channel 5 have each promised to increase their ethnic minority staff within the next three years.

Herman Ouseley, the Chairman of Britain’s Equal Opportunities Commission, said: ‘‘I’m hopeful that today is a watershed because the high-level executives have come here and pledged themselves to commitments, along with the secretary of state.’’

Smith said the effort had the full support of the Labour Government, and commented, ‘‘This initiative is not about political correctness, but about the plain realities of life.’’
— India Abroad News Service

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