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September 17, 2001 - September 17, 2001

Saffronisation of education comes in many hues Monday, September 17, 2001

AHMEDABAD: For students of class IX in Gujarat board, minority communities are a 'problem' facing the country. Chapter nine of their social studies textbook, titled Problems of the Country and Their Solutions, enlists 'minority communities' as the foremost component of the problems.

This is followed by SC/STs, smuggling, corruption and bribery as some of the other problems.

The non-Congress chief ministers may have met last month to lodge their protest over the overt saffronisation of education by the BJP-led government at the Centre, there is not even a murmur of protest in BJP-ruled Gujarat which is going about the exercise in a more subtle manner.

The chapter also terms Muslims, Christians and Parsis as "foreigners" saying, "...apart from the Muslims, even Christians, Parsis and other foreigners are also recognised as minority communities. In most of the states, Hindus are in minority and Muslims, Christians and Sikhs are in majority in these respective states."

"A systematic attempt is being made to communalise education in the state. Various strategies are being put forward - some very subtle, some not so subtle," says director of the Province Office for Integral Social Development (POISD), which maintains a keen focus on education in the state .

Anomalies in chapter nine fall in the subtle category. "Such things should not have been written. It will be rectified as we are in the process of changing textbooks shortly", says state primary education minister Anandiben Patel.

However, the Gujarat Secondary Education Board (GSEB) representatives take recourse to the defence that these textbooks were published before the BJP took over.

Not so subtle attempts include the state education department sending out a GR to all schools on January 19, 2000 directing them to subscribe to Sadhna, a monthly printed by the Gujarat unit of RSS.

The circular could not be put into effect as school principals, especially of minority institutions, condemned the magazine as "directly sectarian and spewing vitriol against the minority communities" and staged massive protest against it.

Or another circular brought in December, 2000 that insisted on principals of all schools to compulsorily send their teachers to Sanskrit training camps in preparation for the move to make the language mandatory for learning and teaching in the schools.

"Sanskrit is a Vedic language and all the revered Vedas are penned in Sanskrit. If we do not teach the students this language, then how will they be able to decipher the same when they graduate to high responsible positions", asks Patel.

She confesses to her toying with the idea of introducing Vedic Mathematics as a subject from class IV or class V. "I have attended camps on Vedic Mathematics and am convinced that students can learn a very unique way of fast computing just like computers. The subject is also being taught in secondary schools. But tomorrow, if we introduce it in class IV or V and they oppose it as saffronisation, then that charge would be wrong and baseless", she says.

Or the ambitious scheme to involve NGOs, surprisingly including RSS volunteers too, to curb malpractice during board exams and ensure transparency. An idea that was nipped in the bud by the High Court following a huge outcry in the media for which Patel still nurses a grudge against the media.

"We had introduced such a good scheme to curb mass-copying in exam centres. But you all criticised it saying that the BJP government had involved RSS volunteers and that the scheme would be misused by the NGOs, and so we had to terminate it after the High Court judgment. That was the ideal way to curb malpractice during exams, but you people never let it materialise", Patel said recently when asked why the board was not initiating any action against teachers and schools managements guilty of their involvement in mass-copying in their exam centres.

Patel, on her part, pooh-poohs the allegations of saffronisation of education in the state. "Is insisting on Saraswati Vandana in schools saffronisation? Is asking missionary schools to allow girl students to stick bindis during festivals forcing Hindutva? Will you say that patriotism and learning about our own culture and history is communal? If yes, then I am sorry," says Patel.

News Source : Times News Network [India's best Newspaper]

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Delay in power reforms not to hit foreign funding Monday, September 17, 2001

VADODARA: Delay in adopting power reforms Bill will not hinder the chances of funding from the foreign financial institutions, thinks energy and power minister Kaushik Patel.

While Gujarat Electricity Board chairman Nalin Bhatt says this bill does not aim at privatisation of the power sector, joint action committee of the GEB Engineers Association and GEB Staff Union and supervisory associations formed for scrapping of the Bill, is not ready to buy these arguments.

Serving an indefinite strike notice on the GEB and government to stall the Bill in the monsoon session had its desired effect.

This pending Bill, could not be taken up during the just-concluded session because of opposition to this Bill. The monsoon session ended on Aug 31 and the next session will be after six months.

This gives an opportunity to both the parties to discuss all issues and debating them thoroughly. This must have given some relief to the authorities as the action committee was in a fighting mood and was firm in its demand to scrap this Bill.

During his recent visit to the city in connection with the inauguration of tower switching station last week, power minister Patel told this correspondent that delay in the adoption of Bill would not affect the assistance from foreign financial institutions.

The Asian Development Bank has attached strict conditions for its $ 350 million loan. Thee ADB wants the state government to go ahead with its programme on power reforms.

The unions and engineers association have opposed loan from FIIs as it risked the country's sovereignty. They argued that their help is much less than what the country needed.

GEB chief Bhatt said this Bill did not aim at the privatisation of power sector, either.

The joint action committee wants chief minister Keshubhai Patel to adopt the path of restraint for five years and watch the performance of the private distribution companies in other states.

This Bill aims at trifurcating Gujarat Electricity Board and establishment of new commission.

These schemes are framed by foreign experts and bureaucrats in India who are not well versed with power scenario in the state and the country. They said the model tried in Orissa was disastrous and yielded negative results. As private companies will be interested in profit than in service, it is likely the tariff will go up. Orissa is clear example where the tariff went up by 78 per cent.

Since the progress done in the past four years in the direction of privatisation is negative, a through thinking is necessary, argued union leaders.

It took 10 long years in UK to privatise CEGB, anything done in hurry without proper rethinking may end in disaster, fear these leaders.

If the profit margin allowed to the private companies is given to the GEB, it can perform better than the private company.

For example, 72 paise increase in power tariff, could make lot of difference to the electricity board revenue so far as the question of 3 per cent return on revenue is concerned.

News Source : Times News Network [India's best Newspaper]

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Congress has lost political credibility: Keshubhai Monday, September 17, 2001

AHMEDABAD: Chief Minister Keshubhai Patel, campaigning for the BJP for Sabarkantha and Sabarmati by-polls, continued his attack on the Congress alleging that it has lost political credibility due to its own misdeeds.

Addressing election meetings in Sabarkantha and Sabarmati constituencies, Patel said that the people have rejected the Congress party for the unfair tactics and dishonest means adopted by it. As against this, the BJP government has proved that it was really working for the welfare of the people.

The laying of drinking water pipeline for Saurashtra had saved the people from several towns and cities from migrating for want of water. Construction of checkdams have recharged watertables and eased the water crisis, about which the Congress had never bothered all these years.

He said that the BJP had smashed criminal gangs which were earlier being provided political patronage by Congress. He added that the crime rate in Gujarat came down considerably during the BJP regime, following effective remedial measures.

Senior BJP leader Madanlal Khurana also addressed election meetings in Sabarkantha during his second tour of the constituency. Union ministers Kashiram Rana and Vallabhbhai Kathiria were camping in Himmatnagar for canvassing for party's candidate Upendra Trivedi.

News Source : Times News Network [India's best Newspaper]

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Ozone depletion linked to spurt in cataract cases Monday, September 17, 2001

VADODARA: Many doctors in India and abroad have affirmed that incidences of cataracts, blinding, skin ailments, etc, have increased in recent years. Medical and environmental research has indicated that in many cases this rise is due to increase in UV radiation.

The ozone layer in the stratosphere prevents the entrance of UV radiation into the Earth's atmosphere, and thus prevents damage to life one Earth. However, the increasing use of ozone depleting substances (ODS) like chlorofluro carbons (CFCs) and other man-made organo-chlorine compounds like methyl chloroform, carbon tetrachloride in industries has led to ozone depletion creating holes in the stratosphere.

Through these holes, UV radiation enters into the Earth's atmosphere giving rise to several medical problems. The world commemorates September 17 as the World Ozone Day to highlight the need to protect the ozone layer.

"In Vadodara, Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda has organised a special talk on 'Ozone Depletion - Causes and Effects' to highlight the problem here," said Manohar Moghe of MSU faculty of science, environmental sciences.

According to him, the talk would be held at the MSU seminar hall of the department of geology on September 17 at 4 pm. N M Bhatt, reader in environmental engineering, would give the talk.

"UV rays are harmful and have given rise to cases of blindness, cataract, and several skin ailments. In India, and in Gujarat too, harmful effects of the depletion need to be studied.

In Gujarat, cases of blindness, skin ailments and others occur, but lack of adequate research here makes it difficult to prove the harmful effects of UV radiation. In other countries, research has made it possible to analyse the harmful effects. But we do not have adequate research facilities," he says.

According to him, the harmful effects of UV radiation also affects the immune system, and research has indicated vaccines are becoming ineffective, leading to increase in cases of malaria and other infectious diseases.

"In many countries abroad, governments have resolved to prevent or limit the use of CFCs, man-made organic-chlorine compounds like methyl chloroform carbon and tetrachloride for industrial use, as these are chiefly responsible for the ozone layer depletion."

He said the first instance of ozone depletion was discovered in the 1970s when countries like Canada, the US, Norway and Sweden banned the use of CFCs and aerosol.

But despite the ban in 1980, the Antarctic ozone hole was discovered indicating that several other man-made organic-chlorine compounds like methyl chloroform, carbon tetrachloride and other substances also contributed to ozone depletion.

However, the damage is done and the bans (if effective) would help to stop further ozone depletion. But the current ozone depletion would still cause severe eye and skin problems due to UV radiation.

"More than 50 per cent of blindness cases (17 million) have been recorded due to cataract said to be caused due to the harmful effects of UV radiation," he said.

"If 10 per cent depletion of ozone is sustained world-wide, it would lead to an additional 30,000 blindings each year. Some virus like papiloma virus, HIV-1 and forms of skin cancer too are caused due to the harmful effect of UV radiation.

He said the problem is not limited to a few areas, and that India, too, should wake up to the problem.

News Source : Times News Network [India's best Newspaper]

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Surf the Net, pick up flowers, also buy petrol Monday, September 17, 2001

AHMEDABAD: Fill it, forget it. That's how the catch-line in an advertisement for a high-efficiency motorcycle goes. The same holds true for the petrol pumps in the country. It is never a place one looks forward to. Once you get your fuel tank filled up, it is out of your mind.

But things are destined for a big change. In fact, a beginning has already been made in Gujarat where petrol pumps have reinvented themselves from the once greasy dispensers of fuel to a one-stop shop that offer more things than just fuel for your car.

A petrol pump, in fact, will be a place where you will be spending much more time eating a pizza, surfing on the net, buying flowers for a friend or picking up your daily requirements from a near convenience store. All this, while your car gets a wash, a quick lube change and a battery recharge.

Plus, of course, the petrol pump will give you access to cash with a string of banks tying up with the oil PSUs to start ATM counters at the gas filling stations. The oil PSUs are really gearing up for the challenge from the private players which may be allowed entry into this business from April, 2002 when the Administered Price Mechanism (APM) is also proposed to be lifted by the government.

Says D L Pramod, the senior retail manager of Indian Oil Corporation, "We already have convenience stores at our outlets in Bodakdev (Ahmedabad) and Gandhinagar, which also have florist shops. We are soon going to have 15 more all over Gujarat".

The process of starting ATMs has already commenced in Ahmedabad where IOC has tied up with the ICICI Bank. More such agreements are being signed with State Bank of India and IDBI Bank. The contract for opening up of convenience stores has been signed with the Apollo group.

Pramod said a pizza outlet is being planned in Ahmedabad and will open shortly. Plus, cyber cafes are coming up at three locations - in Bodakdev, Vasna and Gandhinagar. Auto-wash facilities for vehicles will be introduced in 10 locations in Ahmedabad, Surat and Rajkot.

"Our retail outlets (ROs) are going to become a one-stop arrangement to meet most requirements of our consumers", Pramod said. The company is also planning a model RO in Usmanpura which will have "world class facilities".

Rajnish Mehta, the senior regional manager with Hindustan Petroleum (HP), said agreements are being signed up with Adani, Ravjis and Akbarallys to start convenience stores. The first store is coming up in a 750 square feet area at the Sola Road outlet later this month.

HP has a large convenience store in its Bandra (Mumbai) outlet which has a turnover of almost Rs 2 lakh per day. Cyber cafes have already been started by Satyam at HP outlets in Mumbai.

Mehta said HP also has arrangements with MRF, Exide and Mico which will offer services like battery charging and wheel balancing. The first ATM is being started at Ashram Road. HP also has introduced a debt card and credit card in association with ICICI which can be used for buying petrol.

A novel 'fleet card' has also been introduced wherein owners of fleet of trucks can make payment in say Mumbai or Delhi while the truck driver buys fuel in Gujarat.

A senior Bharat Petroleum (BP) official, Farooq Ahmed, said BP had termed the convenience stores as 'Errand Malls' and these have already started in some parts of the country. These malls along with cyber cafes will soon come up in Gujarat.

Apart from this, the 'Petrocard' introduced by BP has become a huge success as the company already has around three lakh clients holding the card.

He said pre-paid cards were also becoming very popular with people, who frequently travel out of town in their vehicles and nearly 50 BP outlets in Gujarat are already accepting these cards.

News Source : Times News Network [India's best Newspaper]

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