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December 11, 2000 - December 12, 2000

Bishop proves to be thorn in Keshubhai govt's side Tuesday, December 12, 2000

GANDHINAGAR: Ignoring the Gujarat Government's request to recall the Tamil Nadu Minorities Commission chairman Bishop Ezra Sargunam, Chief Minister Karunanidhi has sent a telegram to his Gujarat counterpart Keshubhai Patel, requesting him to grant an audience to the bishop who is protesting against "state-sponsored vandalism" at a south Gujarat church.

Armed with the telegram, Bishop Sargunam arrived in Gandhinagar on Monday seeking an appointment with the CM.

The message from Karunanidhi says "Dear Patelji, I understand that Bishop Sargunam has sought an appointment with you on Monday or Tuesday. Please meet him so that the issue can be resolved at the earliest."

However, the CM's office here has reportedly told the bishop that the chief minister was busy and would be able to meet him only on Wednesday.

Home minister Haren Pandya said the Bishop had been seeking an appointment with him which was granted on Monday, but the latter had cancelled the engagement.

Karunanidhi's message comes close on the heels of the letters despatched by the Gujarat government to Chennai, seeking recall of the bishop whose presence, it fears, would spark communal unrest in South Gujarat in the build-up to Christmas.

Bishop Sargunam told The Times of India on Monday, "Karunanidhi first told me to return and promised to take up the issue at the appropriate level. I explained to him that the situation here smacks of government-sponsored vandalism, so he has agreed to pave the way for my meeting with the Gujarat CM."

A copy of the telegram sent by Karunanidhi was marked to the Bishop who said he was willing to wait in Gandhinagar till Wednesday to meet Keshubhai. "I have every reason to stay here till this matter is resolved."

He accused the Gujarat government machinery of using the VHP to terrorise the minorities. "The Constitution provides for a three-tier structure with the executive, legislature and the judiciary, but in Gujarat I find that there is a fourth tier in the form of the VHP."

The bishop said Karunanidhi, whose party DMK is part of the NDA, was "worried" over the repercussions of the case. He had to take into account the sentiments of the minorities who comprise 20 per cent of the population in Tamil Nadu.

The bishop had arrived in Chhindia village of Surat district on November 29 after hearing that a church constructed on a land belonging to tribals had been attacked.

Bishop Sargunam claimed the church was built by the Evangelical Church of India in 1996 on a piece of land belonging to a tribal family, the Kotwadiyas. However, Punyabhai Kotwadiya claimed he had again become a Hindu and didn't want a church on his property. He also said that the land also belonged to his brother and mother who are also Hindus.

The church claims the land belongs to 16 persons, including Punyabhai, who had allegedly got the land records doctored.

The bishop has written to the CMs of Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu, Prime minister Vajpayee, Human Rights Commission and other organisations demanding justice. He said 200 Christians of Chhindia were today being denied their right to worship.

"All I say is that we should be allowed to worship on the land till the dispute is sorted out," the Bishop said. However, officials say this cannot be allowed because the magistrate hearing the case had prevented the Christian leaders from entering the shrine till the issue of ownership if resolved.

Efforts on to revive Umbergaon port issue Tuesday, December 12, 2000

VALSAD : Even as the issue of the controversial mega commercial port proposed by the Keshubhai Patel government on the state border with Maharashtra appears to be fading out, in yet another attempt to rekindle the issue, over half a dozen speakers including NBA activist Medha Patkar and Father Thomas Cocherry, co-ordinator of the World Forum of Fish Harvesters and Fish Workers, descended upon Umbergaon on Saturday and reiterated their strong opposition to the construction of the proposed ports.

However, with the notable presence of Patkar in the anti-port meet, the local Congress leaders including former Union minister Uttambhai Patel, who have also been opposing the construction of the commercial port and were reportedly scheduled to share the dais with the activists, distanced themselves at the eleventh hour.

The meet organised under the aegis of National Fish Workers Forum (NFWF), however, recorded the presence of national Congress leader Major Sudhir Sawant, NFWF president Harikrishna Devnath and Kinara Bachao Sangharsh Samiti (KBSS) activist Chandrashekhar Sagar among others.

Addressing the meet, Patkar was learnt to have reminded the 1,000-strong gathering of the circumstances that led to the death of the anti-port activist Colonel Pratap Save and his active role in opposing the port.

She was further reported to have urged them to not let his "sacrifice" go waste and oppose the port tooth and nail. Patkar had lent her support to the anti-port campaign following the death of KBSS activist Save and had also led the activists to the Umbergaon police station to file a complaint against the alleged atrocities meted out to certain activists during the anti-port rally in April, 2000 by certain police officials.

The sleepy town had witnessed an upsurge in violence by the anti-port activists on April 7. Save was arrested by the local police who resorted to a lathi charge and lobbed tear gas shells to disperse the mob trying to uproot the tents of the SRP jawans camping at the port site.

Save, reportedly down with hypertension, had suffered subdural haemorrhage and left ventricular failure during police custody. He was shifted to the Hinduja Hospital in Mumbai after preliminary treatment at Vapi. After a brain surgery in Mumbai, he passed away in a state of comma after a week. While the activists allege the death due to police torture, the police sources state it as an accidental death.

Meanwhile, the local KBSS activist Chandrashekhar Sagar while addressing the gathering announced that a nation-wide stir, to bring awareness about the ill effects the proposed commercial mega port was likely to bring in the scenic region, would also be launched from January eight to January 18. He added that he would also launch a protest hunger strike from the same day in Umbergaon followed by ten other places all over the country. He, however, failed to mention the names of the cities where similar protests were planned.

Other stalwarts who remained present at the meet included Devi Marchi (Bangalore), Pittar Das (Chennai), Sri Niwas (Andhra Pradesh), Rajen Das (West Bengal), Mathani Sadani (Goa), Peter (Kerala), B Sripathi (Orissa) and Premji Khoparia (Gujarat).

College teachers protest to fulfil long pending demands Monday, December 11, 2000

PALANPUR: The college teachers of the town staged a dharana here on Saturday to protest against the non-acceptance of their long standing demands including proposed increase in the work load from existing 16 periods to 21 periods a week, which according to teachers union will render several teachers surplus in the state. Besides implementation of National Eligibility Test (NET) and State Level Eligibility Test (SELT), senior scale for librarians and PT teachers and UGC approved pay-scale and leave rules for part-time college teachers were among the other main demands of the agitating teachers.

As many as 50 college teachers wearing black badges launched first phase of their agitation, which began on Saturday. The teachers shouted slogans "Vachan bhang sharam sharam. Samzuti no palan karo, vishvaniyata sthapit karo" (Shame shame, breach of promise. Comply with understanding and keep up the credibility).

According to local union of the college teachers secretary, S N Jaiswal, the present phase of the agitation will go a long way. On Tuesday the college teachers all over the country would go on a mass casual leave and take part in the "Maha Rally" being organised in New Delhi by All India Federation of University and College Teachers Organisation (AIFUCTO). Simultaneously a rally is also being organised in this connection in Ahmedabad as a mark of protest against injustice done to the college teachers. The retired college teachers, who have not received their pay since last July to October 31, have also urged the union to settle their problem sympathetically.

According to a retired college teacher, despite a verdict by a committee appointed by the state government, they are yet to get their pay.

Nation-wide stir from Jan 8 against port construction Monday, December 11, 2000

VALSAD : Even as the issue of the controversial mega commercial port proposed by the Keshubhai Patel government on the state border with Maharashtra appearing to be fading out, in yet another attempt to rekindle the issue, over half a dozen speakers including NBA activist Medha Patkar and Father Thomas Cocherry, co-ordinator of the World Forum of Fish Harvesters and Fish Workers, descended upon Umbergaon on Saturday and reiterated their strong opposition to the construction of the proposed ports.

However, with the notable presence of Patkar in the anti-port meet, the local Congress leaders including former Union minister Uttambhai Patel who also have been opposing the construction of the commercial port and were reportedly scheduled to share the dais with the activists, distanced themselves at the eleventh hour. The meet organised under the aegis of National Fish Workers Forum (NFWF), however, recorded the presence of national Congress leader Major Sudhir Sawant, NFWF president Harikrishna Devnath and Kinara Bachao Sangharsh Samiti (KBSS) activist Chandrashekhar Sagar among others.

Addressing the meet, while Patkar is learnt to have reminded the 1,000 strong gathering of the circumstances that led to the death of the anti-port activist Colonel Pratap Save and his active role in opposing the port. She is further reported to have urged them to not let his "sacrifice" go waste and oppose the port tooth and nail. Patkar had lent her support to the anti-port campaign following the death of KBSS activist Save and had also led the activists to the Umbergaon police station to file a complaint against the alleged atrocities meted out to certain activists during the anti-port rally in April, 2000 by certain police officials.

The sleepy town had witnessed an upsurge in violence by the anti-port activists on April 7. Save was arrested by the local police who resorted to a lathi charge and lobbed tear gas shells to disperse the mob trying to uproot the tents of the SRP jawans camping at the port site. Save, reportedly down with hypertension, had suffered subdural haemorrhage and left ventricular failure during police custody. He was shifted to the Hinduja Hospital in Mumbai after preliminary treatment at Vapi. After a brain surgery in Mumbai, he passed away in a state of comma after a week. While the activists allege the death due to police torture, the police sources state it as an accidental death.

Meanwhile, the local KBSS activist Chandrashekhar Sagar while addressing the gathering announced that a nation-wide stir, to bring awareness about the ill effects the proposed commercial mega port was likely to bring in the scenic region, would also be launched from January 8 to January 18. He added that he would also launch a protest hunger strike from the same day in Umbergaon followed by ten other places all over the country. He, however, failed to mention the names of the cities where similar protests were planned.

Other stalwarts who remained present at the meet included Devi Marchi (Bangalore), Pittar Das (Chennai), Sri Niwas (Andhra Pradesh), Rajen Das (West Bengal), Mathani Sadani (Goa), Peter (Kerala), B Sripathi (Orissa) and Premji Khoparia (Gujarat).

Report indicting Choondavat not submitted to varsity, says panel Monday, December 11, 2000

VADODARA: In an explosive disclosure, the disciplinary action committee constituted to probe the Laxman Lohar case has said that the report it had prepared, was never submitted to the varsity.

The committee has indicted the then warden of M M Hall and now chief warden P S Choondavat of abetting illegal admission.

Laxman Lohar, a resident of M M Hall had alleged that he had paid Rs 2,500 to the warden through one Kishan Chaurasia in order to stay in the hostel. Lohar had failed in his exam and hence was officially not eligible to stay at the M M Hall. On hostel records Laxman, though ineligible, was allotted room 8E of the M M Hall but was actually accommodated in room 8A while Chaurasia was occupying room 8E.

The report states that Kishan Chaurasia, who was never a student of MSU, stayed in room no 8E of the M M Hall for over two years by the grace of the hall warden. It mentions that Chaurasia was not only given illegal entry into the hostel but also 'became a power-broker, a con-man, and a right hand man of the warden.'

"Chaurasia enjoyed special privileges and managed dirty jobs for his mentor. He was allotted a two-seater room to be exclusively used by him. Despite being a non-student he was given an official admission in room no 8E of M M Hall. His name was registered in the muster cum account books of the hostel mess", the report says. Dr Rajkumar Hans was the convenor of the disciplinary action committee while P Krishnakumar, A A Ansari, K R Badola and V A Barve acted as members.

"Every word mentioned in the report is based on evidence and authentic findings", Hans said. He added that the committee has procured registers for the months of April-June 2000 which showed the diners' entries against their respective room numbers. "In all these months Kishan Chaurasia was entered as a regular diner against 8E of M M Hall", Hans said. He said that Chaurasia's regular stay was also confirmed by the attendant on duty and by the students staying in the neighbouring rooms of 8E. The report also says that it had procured documentary proof that till March 31 2000 Chaurasia had outstanding food bills of Rs 1,695 and by May 2000 the amount touched Rs 2,794.

However, M M Hall warden and now the chief warden Choondavat asserted before the committee that he did not know any such person as Kishan Chaurasia.

"Choondavat was not cooperative in the probe. Despite Choondavat's denial the facts and evidence we collected makes it clear that Chaurasia stayed in M M Hall because of the warden's blessings", Hans said. Simultaneously there was another case in K M Hall of Manish Soneri that necessitated a probe by the committee.

Interestingly, the members who had prepared the report had to resign from the committee on July 20 mainly due to the adamant attitude of the chief warden.

"Another committee was formed. This committee was highly irregular and it seems it became conduit to the dictates from above. An unpreceedented abnormally heavy fine of Rs 5000 was slapped on Manish Soneri. Even the courts do not normally punish monetarily so heavily. The accused warden, however, was let of", said Hans.

The unsubmitted report however was informally handed over to one of the university top administrators but neither a note of it or action was taken against those indicted for wrongdoing. In the meantime another controversy erupted in the hostel campus, once again with P S Choondavat at its centre. By this time Choondavat was elevated to the position of chief warden. Eight boys hostel wardens resigned in protest of the chief warden's autocratic behaviour and style of functioning. Pro vice-chancellor V D Pathak when contacted said he was meeting each warden separately and trying to bring about an amicable solution to the problem.

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