Gold digging Ants

Deepak Gupta deepak at
Tue Nov 26 14:24:45 UTC 1996

Refer to the first news item.

D E E P A K     G U P T A                    
email: deepak at  Internet:
Kansas State University, Manhattan, KS,        Phone: 913-532-0659 / 3777

India News Network Digest    Tue, 26 Nov 96      Volume 2 : Issue 1174

Today's News Topics:

   (1)  'Gold-Digging Ants' mystery seems solved, after bugging
                                                scholars for centuries
   (2)  Ibrahim rejects dissidents` demand for JDLP meet
   (3)  Joshi offers to break impasse on border row
   (4)  No let up on foreign TV or airlines: Ibrahim
   (5)  Women clinch both posts for the first time; Padmavathi
                                                        is Bangalore Mayor
   (6)  Site allotment to ex-MLAs and MPs challenged
   (7)  Medical college admissions begin
   (8)  Patel assures speedy Cabinet decision on KSRTC

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Date: Mon, 25 Nov 1996 20:51:04 -0500 (EST)
From: Joydeep Mitra <mitra at>
Subject: 'Gold-Digging Ants' in the Himalayas

#1  'Gold-Digging Ants' mystery seems solved, after bugging
                                                scholars for centuries

By MARLISE SIMONS: New York Times: Nov 25,'96: <letters at>

  PARIS -- The fabulous tale of the giant "ants" that dug up gold in a far-off
El Dorado and enriched the Persian Empire, has circulated for some 2,500
years. Historians have variously recorded it as fact, mocked it as
extravagant, or just passed it along the ancient grapevine.

  It was popular in Athens and Rome, and Alexander the Great, on his way to
India, is said to have known about the tale. Scholars and fortune hunters have
tried to explain the enigma for centuries.

  Now a team of explorers says it has solved the puzzle. The explorers believe
they have pinpointed the land of the legendary gold-digging ants and the
people who profited in one of the most inaccessible regions of the
Himalayas along the upper Indus River.

  They say the outsize furry "ants," first described by Herodotus in the fifth
century B.C., are in fact big marmots. These creatures -- Herodotus calls
them "bigger than a fox, though not so big as a dog" -- are still throwing up
gold-bearing soil from deep underground as they dig their burrows. Most
important, the explorers say they have found indigenous people on the
same high plateau who say that for generations they have collected gold dust
from the marmots' work.

  "I think this confirms the legend that has fascinated so many people," said
Michel Peissel, a French ethnologist, who has just returned here from a
monthlong journey in the western Himalayas of northern Pakistan. "I think it
vindicates Herodotus, who has often been called a liar."

  Other explorers have suggested that the furry "ants" of antiquity were
marmots, but until now there were no known reports of the site where indigenous
people actually collected and sifted sand to get the marmots' gold.

  That place, Peissel said, is the Dansar plain, a high plateau overlooking
the Indus River near the tense cease-fire line between India and Pakistan.
It is an isolated region where the Indus comes roaring through deep gorges on
its way south. On both sides of the river, Peissel said, are small settlements
of Minaro tribal people, an ancient remnant who have remained so isolated
in the high valleys that they still preserve some stone-age customs.

  Up in those barren highlands, Peissel said, he first went to study the
Minaro 14 years ago on the Indian side of the border, traveling in
disguise because the military zone was off-limits to outsiders.

  "That's where I first heard the startling news that the villagers used to
collect the earth from the marmot burrows because it contained much gold
dust," said Peissel, who speaks Tibetan, like the Minaro.

  But the Dansar plain, where the old people used to get the gold dust, the
locals said, was five miles away on the other side of the Indus, now the
Pakistani side. It took 14 years for Peissel and a British photographer,
Sebastian Guinness, to get permits to visit the Minaro on the Pakistani side,
also a strategic zone.

  In Pakistan, he said, the Minaro villagers told the same stories. "We went
out to the Dansar plain, overlooking the Indus, at an altitude of some 10,000
feet," he said. "It was astonishing. There were the marmots and the burrows
and the piles of sand they threw up." Moreover, he said, a landslide had
exposed the darker, gold-bearing soil that was three feet below the surface.
That was the same soil the marmots brought up from under the sand.

  Specialists have long argued about why Herodotus and other ancient writers
described the furry gold-digging creatures as ants. Herodotus wrote in his
"Histories" (Book Three, 102-105) that some were even kept at the palace
of the Persian king, who ruled the region at the time.

  Peissel, author of a book called "The Ants' Gold," says that his favored
explanation is that confusion set in because in Persian the word for marmot is
equivalent to "mountain ant."

  Marmots, a type of rodent, are unusually large in the Himalayas, with bushy
fur and a large fox-like tail, he said. They have razor-sharp teeth and claws.
"They can be ferocious if one tampers with their burrows, which is just
what the gold-seekers did," he said.

  Stephanie West, a Herodotus scholar at Oxford University in Britain, said
that Herodotus was not known to speak Persian, although the Persians
invaded Halicarnassus, the Greek city where he lived from around 480 B.C.

  "He traveled to Egypt but not to India," Ms. West said. "He could have got
it wrong. His information came from talking to travelers and reading what
there was to be read."

  Ms. West disagreed with the view of some scholars that Herodotus, who wrote
the first major prose work of that time, fabricated tall stories or set
out to deceive readers.

  "He probably took the liberties a historical novelist takes, rather than
writing strictly as a historian," she said.

  Many references to the story of the gold-digging ants can be found in
ancient literature, she said.

  "It's such a marvelous notion, but once you think of them as marmots, it's
less bizarre," she said. She added that she was familiar with Peissel's
research, saying: "I think he has made a substantial contribution to
understanding that episode."

  The marmots digging on the Dansar plain may or may not settle the issue.
Peissel said he would prefer to test his findings with further studies.

  "Ideally, we should make a full archeological and geological survey in the
area," he said. "But it's right in the line of fire of both sides. There was
gunfire when we were there. The locals tell us that the marmots are
dwindling. The Indian soldiers are constantly taking potshots at them."


#2  Ibrahim rejects dissidents` demand for JDLP meet

                        Deccan Herald News Service
                           By Our Staff Reporter
                             BANGALORE, Nov 25
Chief Minister J H Patel today said that he had authorised Deputy Chief
Minister Siddaramaiah, ministers M P Prakash, M C Nanaiah, P G R Sindhia, C
Byre Gowda and B Somashekar to look into the grievances of disgruntled

Mr Patel told reporters that he had asked them to meet the legislators who
had recently demanded an emergency meeting of the Janata Dal Legislature
Party (JDLP) where the CM should seek a vote of confidence, and to find out
the issues they planned to discuss at the meeting.

Stating that Prime Minister H D Deve Gowda was also in favour of the senior
ministers discussing the matter with the legislators, Mr Patel remarked:
''I am not hesitating to convene the JDLP meeting. They should inform me of
the reason for convening it.``

Stating that the charges levelled by some legislators on his style of
functioning were trivial, Mr Patel asked: ''Can you think of a democratic
party without dissent?``

He said that the nominations for the three vacancies in the Legislative
Council would be announced tomorrow.

Meanwhile, State Janata Dal President C M Ibrahim today turned down the
dissident legislators` demand for an emergency JDLP meeting. He was of the
view that the issue did not warrant a meeting since it could be resolved
without much ado.

Replying to a host of queries at a meet-the-press programme organised by
the Bangalore Reporters` Guild and Press Club of Bangalore, Mr Ibrahim, who
is also Union Civil Aviation minister, and Information and Broadcasting
minister, said that it had been decided to request the senior leaders to
iron out the differences. ''Surely there is no need to convene a meeting of
the JDLP. One or two hours` discussion with the legislators can solve the
issue. If my presence is required again, I will come back here,`` he added.

Asked how he rated Mr Patel`s administration, Mr Ibrahim said that the
chief minister had done his best considering the government`s financial
crunch. Though there were some shortfalls, Mr Patel alone could not be
blamed as it was the duty of all partymen to share the burden, he said.

When it was pointed out that he too was to blame for the present rumblings
in the state unit of the party, Mr Ibrahim admitted that he had not been
able to give due attention to party activities here, knowing which he had
offered to resign soon after becoming a Union minister.

However, he planned to tour the state extensively from next month and
rejuvenate the party. He also said that a national-level meeting of the
Janata Dal was going to be held at Surajkund on November 30 and December 1.

Mr Ibrahim said there was no move to replace party president Laloo Prasad
Yadav with Prime Minister H D Deve Gowda.

''No move as of today,`` Mr Ibrahim, a close confidant of Mr Gowda,
responding to questions about the reported move to change the Bihar chief
minister as Janata Dal chief.

He said the United Front government had proved that it was a national
government through its unity and achievements in the last five-and-half
months. Despite all critics who predicted a short life for it, the UF
government remained in power and successfully implemented various policy

The single achievement of the UF had been restoring democracy in Kashmir
without any intereference from any foreign nation and made it known to the
world that people of Kashmir preferred ballot to bullet, he said.

It was not important how long the UF government would remain in power but
what best it could do to the country, he added.

Following the request made by the Reporters` Guild and Press Club to grant
Rs.1.25 lakh for establishing a media centre at the Press Club, Cubbon
Park, here, Mr Ibrahim conceded the request on the spot and said he would
immediately do the needful.

#3  Joshi offers to break impasse on border row

                         MUMBAI, Nov 25 (UNI & PTI)
Maharashtra Chief Minister Manohar Joshi has sent a message to Karnataka
Chief Minister J H Patel expressing his willingness to meet him and discuss
the long-pending border dispute between the two states.

Mr Joshi sent the letter after he received one from Union Home Minister
Indrajit Gupta on Sunday. Mr Gupta, in the letter, asked both chief
ministers to settle the issue amicably. In fact, the Belgaum bundh on
November 20, followed by an indefinite hunger strike by agitators in New
Delhi, has prompted Mr Gupta to urge an immediate settlement.

Mr Joshi told UNI that he had sent the message to the Karnataka chief
minister and was ready to meet him at Mr Patel`s convenience. ''I am
waiting for the reply,`` he said.

Three elected representatives from the Maharashtra-Karnataka Boundary areas
- including Belgaum Mayor Bijoy Lakshmi Chopade - ended their indefinite
fast on the sixth day here today. The three were on fast, demanding an
immediate resolution to the boundary dispute between Maharashtra and

The elected representatives ended the fast following Mr Gupta`s request to
the chief ministers of the two states to resolve the dispute at the

Shiv Sena supremo Bal Thackeray and Mr Joshi also appealed to them to end
the fast. Maharashtra Labour Minister Sabir Sheikh, who came here as a
representative of the Sena chief and Mr Joshi, offered orange juice to Mrs
Chopade and others who undertook the fast.

Mr Mohan Rawale, Mr Narayan Athavale and Mr Satish Pradhan, all Shiv Sena
MPs, were present on the occasion. Mr Rawale, reading out messages from Mr
Thackeray and Mr Joshi, said that the stalling of the Lok Sabha proceedings
on the boundary issue was a major achievement. The Union home minister
admitted in his letter to the two chief ministers that the boundary dispute
was an ''unsettled`` issue.

The chief minister, in his message, said that he would soon convene a
meeting of the four-member committee to amicably resolve the boundary
dispute. Besides Mr Joshi, former chief minister Sharad Pawar, Planning
Commission Deputy Chairman Madhu Dandavate and Prof N D Patil, of the
Peasants and Workers` Party (PWP), are members of the committee.

#4  No let up on foreign TV or airlines: Ibrahim

                        Deccan Herald News Service
                           By Our Staff Reporter
                             BANGALORE, Nov 25
Union Information and Broadcasting Minister C M Ibrahim today said the
Centre was planning to impose legal restrictions on foreign television
channels to safeguard the ''culture`` and ''integrity`` of the country and
ruled out allowing the entry of foreign print media.

Mr Ibrahim said though due respect should be given to the right of speech,
there should at the same time be some restrictions on what foreign channels
beam from their country. He also cited the example of France where no
foreign channel was allowed to telecast news.

Without divulging the nature of the restrictions to be imposed in view of
the ongoing Parliament session, the minister said opinions of leaders of
all political parties would be sought before arriving at a final decision
in this regard.

Saying that Doordarshan was making efforts to increase its revenue, he said
that in the last five months it had earned Rs.70 crore more compared to the
same period last year. A plan was being worked out to make up the loss of
Rs.300 crore for having made DD3 an international channel, he added.

Referring to the much discussed Prasar Bharati Bill, the minister said he
had already held two rounds of discussions with various political parties
and a decision on its implementation would be taken shortly.

He also said that any policy decisions to be taken pertaining to the fourth
estate would be in consultation with the Press Council of India.

Regarding the aviation sector, Mr Ibrahim who also is the civil avation
minister, categorically said that foreign air service in the Indian
domestic sector cannot be allowed though foreign investment in airport
infrastructure development was welcome. ''When foreign countries do not
permit other countries to enter their domestic air service sector, how can
I permit the same here? And, why should it be permitted?`` he wondered.

Stating that efforts were on to revitalise Air India and Indian Airlines
keeping in view the interest of its 53,000 employees, the minister said
that by giving top priority for ''punctuality`` of air timings and
''optimum`` utilisation of the aircrafts, the loss incurred by Indian
Airlines would be brought to nil in next three months and it would start
earning profits by September next.

While emphasising the need for maximum utilisation of the present
aircrafts, Mr Ibrahim said he was trying to win the confidence of air
passengers by trying to understand their grievances against IA and AI. He
also said he had introduced a new system wherein passengers could directly
post a card to him explaining the problems faced by them while travelling
in IA or AI flight. ''I will personally reply to all the letters. On an
average I get 200 to 300 letters a day,`` he added.

Saying that the present process of setting up various committees to decide
the purchase of new aircrafts was highly time consuming, the minister
pointed out that IA and AI had lost over Rs.1,000 crore in the last five
years following the delay in purchase of aircrafts. He said he had directed
the Ministry to change the process while maintaining transparency in

Referring to criticism regarding safety norms followed by the Delhi and
Mumbai airports, Mr Ibrahim said the improved safety procedures, as mooted
by the US company Raytheon, would be adopted by both airports in the next
three to four months. ''There is nothing wrong in the present system as
this is internationally accepted. But, still we want to improve. So far, no
inquiry commissions set up to probe into the air accidents have put the
blame on air safety measures followed by us,`` he maintained.

Asked when the Centre would give final clearance for the proposed Rs.15,000
crore international airport at Devanahalli north of Bangalore, Mr Ibrahim
said that the techno-economic feasibility report of the State government
had not yet reached him. ''Within seven days of receiving the report, I
will give clearance,`` he declared.

#5  Women clinch both posts for the first time; Padmavathi is Bangalore Mayor

                        Deccan Herald News Service
                           By Our Staff Reporter
                             BANGALORE, Nov 25
For the first time in the State`s history, women have cornered the
posts of mayor and deputy mayor in the Bangalore City Corporation.

Ms Padmavathi Gangadhara Gowda and Ms Venkatalakshmi of the Janata Dal were
today elected mayor and deputy mayor respectively.

With the election of the mayor and the deputy mayor, an elected council has
been restored in Bangalore, which has been under administrator`s rule since
May 1995. Earlier, the newly elected members took oath.

Bangalore Divisional Commissioner Kotilingangouda conducted the election.

Ms Padmavathi, whose choice as the party`s unanimous candidate was
finalised by Prime Minister H D Deve Gowda himself late last night,
defeated the Bharatiya Janata Party nominee for the post, Mr M Gopal Reddy,
by 28 votes. Ms Padmavathi secured 60 of the 92 votes polled and Mr Reddy

Of the 136 voting members of the council (99 corporators and 37 legislators
and MPs who are ex-officio members), 117 were present. However, 25 of them
(21 Congress, 3 Navanirmana Nagarika Samiti and 1 independent) abstained
from voting.

The voting was through a show of hands.

Ms Padmavathi, who represents Yediyur ward (No 59), is the second woman
Mayor of the City. The first woman Mayor was Ms Indiramma (Cong-I) in 1960.

Ms Padmavathi holds a degree in Hindi and is serving her second term as
corporator. Earlier she was elected to the BCC from the same ward in 1983.
She had served as member of the BCC standing committees on finance, works,
accounts and social justice. An active member of the Lions Club and various
voluntary organisations, she is also on the board of directors of the
Bharath Co-operative House Building Society, Jayanagar.

Party sources said that it was the closeness of her family to Mr Deve Gowda
which clinched the choice in her favour as there were at least four serious
contenders. She is originally from Hassan, the home district of the prime
minister. Her bio-data released to the press also states that her husband,
Mr Gangadhara Gowda, a former BDA member, ''has been active in politics as
a close associate of Mr Deve Gowda.``

Mr B R Nanjundappa of the JD, who was also a serious contender for the
post, filed his nomination but withdrew it later.

Ms Venkatalakshmi`s choice as the party nominee for the deputy mayor`s post
was almost a foregone conclusion as the post was reserved for SC women. She
was the only SC woman corporator in the JD. She defeated the BJP candidate
for the post, Ms M Vasudha, by 65 to 32 votes. She represents the
Lingarajapuram reserve ward (No 88) and was elected to the BCC for the
first time.

The Janata Dal, single largest party in the October 27 BCC elections, in
which no party gained a majority, would have found it difficult to secure
the two posts had the Opposition BJP and the Congress fielded a common

But the Congress decided to remain neutral, paving the way for the Janta
Dal to get its candidates elected to the posts.

All but one of the 11 independents (including three party rebels), the lone
KCP and DMK members and AIADMK legislator from the city B Muniyappa also
voted for the Dal.

Soon after her election as the 34th Mayor, Ms Gowda released a statement to
the members in which she listed her priorities for the planned development
of the City and welfare of backward sections and women.

''The city which is considered as the fastest growing one in Asia lacks
basic civic amenities. The congested and narrow roads pose serious problems
to vehicular movements. The work on fly-overs should be expedited. Drinking
water and streetlight facilities need to be improved,`` she stated and
sought the co-operation of the members in this regard.

She recalled the drive launched by Mr Deve Gowda as chief minister last
year to regularise revenue sites by collecting improvement charges from
site owners and to use the money thus collected for providing civic
amenities in the newly added areas of the city. She said she would continue
this programme.

#6  Site allotment to ex-MLAs and MPs challenged

                        Deccan Herald News Service
                           By Our Staff Reporter
                             BANGALORE, Nov 25
A public interest litigation challenging the action of the State Government
and the Bangalore Development Authority (BDA) in allotting residential
sites to former MLAs and MPs has been admitted by the Karnataka High Court.

Former legislators Azeez Sait, L G Havanoor, Bheemanna Khandre and S
Revanna are among the respondents in the case. Mr Justice B V Raveendran
granted an interim order till December 10, keeping the earlier orders in

In the petition, advocate S Vasudeva had contended that all the allotees
owned properties in their native places and in Bangalore had obtained the
permission and allotment by giving false information.

It was further alleged that the government, the BDA and other government
agencies had acted illegally and arbitrarily in ignoring the 80,000
applicants waiting for allotment of sites.

In another case, Mr Justice G P Shivaprakash admitted a writ petition filed
by scion of Mysore royal family Srikantadatta Narasimharaja Wodeyar
challenging the validity of the recent government enactment on Bangalore
Palace. The court posted the matter for further hearing on December 4.

#7  Medical college admissions begin

                        Deccan Herald News Service
                           By Our Staff Reporter
                             BANGALORE, Nov 25
The much delayed counselling/seat allotment process for admission to
professional colleges officially commenced today with Higher Education
Minister B Somashekhar presenting mementoes to some of the rank-holders.

Madhuri M G (8th rank in the Common Entrance Test) was the first candidate
to undergo the counselling process and she chose Bangalore Medical College.
The first four students opted for Bangalore Medical College.

On the first day, Karnataka students with ranks 1 to 600 were to undergo
the counselling/seat allotment. Counselling for non-Karnataka students is
scheduled to start on December 10.

Counselling for engineering seats is scheduled to commence on November 28
and the process will go on till January 12, 1997.

Speaking to reporters after the memento presentation ceremony, Mr
Somashekhar, expressed regret for the inordinate delay in the start of the
admission process, said that it was due to circumstances beyond the
government`s control. A lot of confusion prevailed due to the intake
problem which has now been cleared, he added.

He said the admission process would be streamlined next year and the
time-table would be announced well in advance. Admissions would be made
strictly according to the time-table to avoid any confusion.

Mr Somashekhar said classes would be held during the holidays to complete
the syllabus and coaching time would be reduced.

Every Saturday there would be a reallotment of seats which, for some
reason, had been vacated. However, these would be available only to the
next rank-holder.

The CET Cell will also be bringing out daily bulletins (Rs.5 per copy)
giving information about seat availability so that the counselling process
itself would not take much time with the students having decided the
college and course of their choice based on the information available in
the bulletin.

Mr Somashekhar also stressed that there was no room for any kind of
manipulation as far as allotment of seats was concerned. He also warned
students and parents against being misled by persons who promised them
seats in colleges of their choice. ''Even as a minister I cannot favour
anyone,`` he added.

He stated that a Cabinet committee headed by him and comprising Health and
Family Welfare Minister H C Mahadevappa, Medical Education Minister Shankar
Naik and others had constituted an experts committee headed by the former
vice-chancellor of Mangalore University to go into the issue of whether
Karnataka needed more medical colleges and the guidelines for setting up
new colleges, if needed. The government would take a decision based on the
panel`s recommendations, he said.

#8  Patel assures speedy Cabinet decision on KSRTC

                        Deccan Herald News Service
                           By Our Staff Reporter
                             BANGALORE, Nov 25
Chief Minister J H Patel today said that a decision on decentralisation of
the Karnataka State Road Transport Corporation (KSRTC) and creation of a
seperate wing for the Bangalore Transport Service (BTS), to ensure
administrative convenience and efficiency, will be taken at the next
cabinet meeting.

Briefing reporters after a meeting held here today to review the
performance and the financial position of the KSRTC, the CM said the
meeting, attended by Transport Minister P G R Sindhia and senior officials
of the KSRTC, decided unanimously that the KSRTC should be divided into
three divisions with offices at Bangalore, Hubli and Gulbarga to be headed
by the Corporation`s divisional commissioners and that the administration
of the BTS should be brought under a seperate wing to be headed by a

''Such a move would improve the administration of the transport
corporation,`` Mr Patel said and added that the cabinet decision would take
effect within three weeks of the meeting.

Pointing out that the KSRTC already has its main office in Bangalore, the
chief minister said that the properties of the depots at Hubli and Gulbarga
would be entrusted to the divisional offices of the areas, as per the rules
of the Corporation.

Stating that there were several complaints by commuters regarding the
quality of services provided by KSRTC, Mr Patel hoped that decentralisation
of the corporation would ease the hardship of the commuters. The
decentralisation move would not be an additional burden on the State
exchequer, he added.

Terming the proposal to privatise the KSRTC as relevant, Mr Patel said the
proposal would be examined later.


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