Poll-wary CPM takes stock
Security assurance to striking doctors
Basu sees hope in village lights
Eye surgery for slum-dwellers
From Coffee House to the diplomat’s office
Three killed in shootout
Centre puts off Naga talks
Teacher’s finger lopped off
BSF kills two trespassers in south Assam
Jamir inducts controversial Cong MLA

Calcutta, Jan. 28 
With civic polls at their doorstep, the Marxists are desperate to get their own house in order.

The state CPM leadership on Friday decided to “review” the performances of all ministers, including deputy chief minister Buddhadev Bhattacharya and finance minister Asim Dasgupta.

The CPM state secretariat summoned all Cabinet members to a special secretariat meeting on Monday at party headquarters on Alimuddin Street.

Usually, the party secretariat meeting every Friday is a routine affair. But Monday’s `special’ meeting will witness the party leadership reviewing individual performances of ministers and seeking explanations for failure in different sectors.

In the government-party interface, the spotlight will be on Buddhadev Bhattacharya whose police department has been in the firing line of some partymen, the Opposition and the public.

Bhattacharya, who was away in Cuba for two weeks for eye treatment, finds himself at the centre of a raging controversy over crime in the city. Allegations and counter-allegations have flown thick and fast since the murder of Gurupada Bagchi and the subsequent violence in Kasba on Sunday. The debate over the growing criminalisation of politics, with the police playing a dubious role, has held centre-stage at every political corner.

Many in the CPM leadership are annoyed with the working of the home (police) department, headed by Bhattacharya. Some, like state secretary Anil Biswas, have been openly critical of the police. Rabin Deb, in fact, demanded the removal of both Calcutta Police commissioner Dinesh Vajpai and West Bengal Police chief Dipak Sanyal, following the Kasba killing.

The law-and-order situation in the districts, too, will come under scrutiny. In Midnapore, several CPM activists have been killed over the past few months, allegedly by Trinamul Congress supporters. If Bhattacharya is sure to face some uncomfortable questions from senior party leaders, it won’t be smooth sailing for finance minister Asim Dasgupta either.

Dasgupta has, reportedly, stopped grants to many departments, causing a lot of resentment among some quarters.

Dasgupta is said to have checked the flow of funds for construction and repair of city roads, development of some municipalities and construction of stadiums at Howrah and Barasat in the north 24-Parganas. The concerned ministers have already complained to chief minister Jyoti Basu and other party leaders about this.

The CPM state leadership had decided to meet its ministers regularly after the Calcutta party congress in 1998. But the timing of Monday’s meet is crucial as the election to Calcutta Municipal Corporation, slated for May, looks to be a tough one for the ruling reds.

According to party insiders, the Monday meet will not only be the first brain-storming session before the civic elections, it will also set the stage for preparations in the run-up to the Assembly polls due in 2001.    

Calcutta, Jan. 28 
Admissions to National Medical College and Hospital were closed on Friday as 400 junior doctors continued their indefinite cease-work for the second consecutive day to protest the lack of security arrangements at the hospital.

The doctors struck work after a group of people, said to be local residents and relatives of a five-year-old boy who died of “cerebral malaria”, assaulted doctors and nurses on duty on Thursday.

A mob went on the rampage on the fifth floor of the Medicine Ward on Thursday forcing doctors and nurses to take refuge in the toilet. Three persons were arrested in this connection on Friday.

Health minister Partha De told The Telegraph that the doctors’ demands were being looked into. “At the same time, they cannot expect that their demands will be met at the snap of a finger. We have asked them to resume work immediately,” De said.

“Whatever the health minister may say... We don’t want to go over the same old rigmarole of red tape. First the security has to be tightened inside the hospital and then only we will resume work. The situation is becoming impossible,” a striking doctor said.

In a late-night development, the superintendent and deputy superintendent of the hospital assured the striking doctors of round-the-clock police protection from Saturday. The police team would call on the heads of different departments every two hours to check whether everything is in order.

The doctors, however, were sceptical. “We do not believe in oral assurances. If on Saturday the assurances take real shape, then we will withdraw our cease-work,” said a junior doctor.

The striking doctors seemed a nervous lot, apprehending that the arrests might spark attacks against them.“A couple of weeks back, two junior doctors were assaulted by a patient’s family and friends. We informed the hospital superintendent but no positive steps have been taken,” they said.

n CPM leader dead: Former transport minister and veteran CPM leader Rabin Mukherjee died in SSKM hospital on Wednesday. He was 86 and is survived by his wife and son.

Mukherjee headed transport ministry from 1987 to 1992.


Calcutta, Jan. 28 
The way to the rural vote-bank is through electric cables, feels the Left Front.

In a departure from its twin pre-poll planks of land reform and rural development to woo the village voter, the ruling coalition has decided to bank on a rural electrification drive this time round.

Chief minister Jyoti Basu has instructed power minister Mrinal Banerjee to implement the pending rural electrification projects on a priority basis. He has assured Banerjee that funds will not be a problem. This will be ensured by finance minister Asim Dasgupta.

“We have drawn up plans to electrify 85 per cent of the villages within 2001. I have also instructed all concerned to implement the projects by this time,’’ Basu said.

According to Banerjee, a task force comprising officers and engineers has been formed to monitor the rural electrification programme and tackle existing problems. “The task force will monitor the pace of work and ensure timely completion,” he added. The move is being viewed as a pre-poll exercise, with Assembly elections scheduled for 2001.

But Banerjee refuses to draw a connection between the electrification programme and elections. “Electrification is one of the major demands in rural Bengal. So, we are trying to meet the demand for the sake of overall development,’’ he said.

Though the government had initiated a move to electrify villages as well as implement central government’s schemes like Kutirjyoti, it failed to make much headway due to lack of infrastructure.

“The rural people are agitated because we have not been able to provide electricity. I appreciate the feelings of the villagers because it proves that they are conscious,’’ said the chief minister. The government has already constituted the Rural Electrification Corporation and is now planning to depute a minister of state to boost the programme.

“We have lost a lot of time. We have to work fast to meet the demands and needs of the people,’’ admitted Basu.

n Energy park: Jyoti Basu inaugurated an energy education park on the E M Bypass, near Science City. The park has been built jointly by the West Bengal Renewable Energy Development Agency, Calcutta Municipal Corporation and Pollution Control Board.


Calcutta, Jan. 28 
Savitri Mistry,90, a resident of a slum off Pratapaditya Road, underwent an intra ocular lens (IOL) implant that removed her cataract. She is among 20 less-privileged people who underwent the sophisticated microsurgery free of charge on Friday, the seventh anniversary of the Dr Nihar Munsi Eye Foundation.

The centre has conducted 532 such operations in a 14-month period beginning January 1998. It has set itself a target of 1,000 free IOL implants before the end of 2000, managing trustee of the foundation, Capt. P.K. Munshi said, adding that “organisations like Rotary and Helpage India are collaborating with us”.

The cost of the procedure at the centre comes to around Rs 1,200 per person, which includes the lens price and a comparatively nominal doctor’s fee. “And because the process is continual, we are able to keep the expenses around this level,” Munshi said. This amount is given by the welfare organisations and the foundation itself.

“We have plans to set up a community ophthalmology centre, where parallel work along with the existing clinic will be held. It will have five or six beds and will mainly help the rural poor who come in for the implants.” Right now, such patients stay at the adjoining Gurdwara’s dharamshala.

All this the centre is doing in addition to the paying clinic that provides comprehensive facilities for all forms of eye treatment.

Munsi also warned against harbouring an over-matured cataract, which quite a number of elderly people do if the other eye is alright. “This can lead to blindness as the cataract may leak or burst in the eye.”    

Calcutta, Jan. 28 
“The single biggest influence on me has been India,” Dr John Edward Mitchiner told The Telegraph, after addressing his first press conference since assuming office as the new British deputy high commissioner to Eastern India.

He was not just being politically correct. Having spent more than three years of his academic life at Santiniketan, Calcutta and Varanasi working on Indian history, Sanskrit and Hinduism, and five years of his diplomatic career in Delhi, the Indian experience does run like a river through his life.

Coming to Calcutta after stints in London, Istanbul, New Delhi, Berne and Armenia, the 49-year-old academician-turned-diplomat unveiled the objectives of his three-year stay. “I am committed to the furtherance of Indo-British collaboration and cooperation in general, and to the building of closer commercial, educational, cultural and developmental links between Eastern India and the UK, in particular,” he said.

Announcing a host of programmes like the Business Link Sussex Trade Mission to India, the Calcutta Waterfront Workshop, the British Environment Road Show, the Global Enterprise Initiative, Mitchiner declared that the UK’s grants to India would rise from £100 million to £130 million in the next three years.

In West Bengal, the £14.7-million district primary education project will include five more districts at an additional cost of £37 million. A £25-million aid package for Orissa hasalso been cleared. Both West Bengal and Orissa have been targeted as `partner states’ by UK’s department of international development.

While acknowledging West Bengal’s “enormous potential” in helping India become a “regional and world leader”, Mitchiner, however, warned that the state administration must ensure “rapid decision-making and infrastructure development in order to make the environment attractive for foreign investment”. Aware that his tenure could well witness “political transition” in the state, Mitchiner said he hoped that any change would be “peaceful and fully democratic”.

Personally, education remains “top priority” for him. Initiating exchange programmes between Visva Bharati, Calcutta University and universities in the UK remains a dream.

.“While my enduring memory of Santiniketan is of a peaceful ashram steeped in Tagore’s tradition, Calcutta in the late ’70s represented a very attractive chaos,” recalls Mitchiner.

From the young man in kurta- pyjama, `Santiniketani’ bag slung over his shoulder, travelling by tram or bus from the International Students House in Park Circus to College Street, and enjoying adda <\>at Coffee House, to the suave diplomat at the British office, Dr John Edward Mitchiner does seem to be a deputy high commissioner with a difference.    

Calcutta, Jan. 28 
Three persons, including a six-year-old boy, were killed in a shootout in Bongaon, North 24-Parganas, early on Friday morning. One of the victims died when police opened fire to keep two gangs at bay.

Police said the incident took place at Beri Gopalpur, a village on the Indo-Bangla border. Gang rivalry over local fisheries triggered the skirmish.

Pradip Adhikary was attacked by his rival Ratan. Adhikary picked up a six-year-old boy as a shield. But Ratan and his gang sprayed them with bullets. Both died on the spot.

Soon after, policemen from Panchtala police station rushed to the site and chased Ratan and his associates away. They fired four rounds. Ratan was killed in the shootout.

An injured police officer has been admitted to Bongaon hospital. A police picket has been posted in the area.


Jan. 28 
Thailand today released National Socialist Council of Nagalim (Isak-Muivah) general secretary Thuingaleng Muivah on bail even as his comrades in Nagaland claimed that he was “never arrested”.

Joint secretary (Northeast) in the Union home ministry, G.K. Pillai, said Muivah was released on a bail bond of 200,000 baht. “He is now in protective custody in a Bangkok hotel. His trial is scheduled to begin on Tuesday,” he said.

In another development, the Centre today announced that peace talks with the NSCN(I-M) leadership had been postponed. In Kohima, NSCN sources said this decision was taken following a request from their leaders.

Official sources said postponement of the peace talks was convenient for the NSCN(I-M) as well as principal government interlocutor K. Padmanabhaiah. The latter will get in touch with NSCN(I-M) president Isak Chisi Swu to fix another date for the talks, they added.

The talks were scheduled to be held “somewhere in Europe” this month. The Centre’s announcement that the talks had been postponed was confirmed by NSCN(I-M) information and publicity secretary Ng. Hungshi.

Claiming that Muivah was “only detained at the Bangkok airport due to technical reasons”, Hungshi said the NSCN(I-M) general secretary’s “so-called arrest” had been given “undue publicity”. He said the whole exercise could be part of a conspiracy to derail the peace process in Nagaland.

Hungshi said NSCN(I-M) leaders based in Nagaland held a telephonic discussion with the outfit’s top brass in Bangkok early today. “They told us there was nothing to worry about,” he said.

Nagaland chief minister S.C. Jamir later told newspersons in Kohima that it was the Centre’s prerogative to hold talks “with or without Muivah”.

A senior bureaucrat in New Delhi admitted that the peace process had been affected by Muivah’s arrest, but not to the extent that it would collapse.

News about Muivah’s arrest was first published in a Hong Kong-based magazine.

The report stated that the Thailand police took the NSCN(I-M) general secretary into custody soon after he arrived in Bangkok on a flight from Karachi on January 19.

The militant outfit’s “chief arms-procurer”, Athang Shimrey, was also arrested, the report said.

Sources in the Union home ministry, however, said the duo was arrested on January 22. Muivah is believed to have come to Karachi from London before flying back to Bangkok. He stayed in Pakistan for two days.    

Agartala, Jan. 28 
Suspected National Liberation Front of Tripura militants chopped off the finger of a tribal schoolteacher yesterday for hoisting the Tricolour on Republic Day in defiance of the ban announced by the outfit.

A fortnight before Republic Day, the NLFT and the All-Tripura Tiger Force militants had imposed a ban on celebrations. They also made it mandatory for the people to raise a black flag to protest Tripura’s merger with the Indian Union on October 15, 1949.

Duranta Tripura, 35, headmaster of Sibbari junior basic school in Dhalai district, defied the ban and hoisted the Tricolour on Republic Day. The militants stormed his house yesterday afternoon, chopped off his finger and beat him up severely.

In a fresh incident today, seven persons were injured when a group of unidentified armed militants hurled grenades at a jeep near Malakarbasti, 65 km from here.

Police said three seriously wounded passengers were shifted to the G.B Hospital in Agartala while the rest being treated at local hospitals. Senior police and civil officials have rushed to the spot and launched a combing operation.

Militants also abducted seven persons, including a child, in West Tripura yesterday. In another incident, an insurgent was killed in an encounter with the police today.

A group of insurgents armed with sophisticated weapons abducted a five-year-old girl from Harikobrapara of West Tripura district yesterday. Five fishermen and a deputy village chief were also kidnapped by militants from Aralia in the same district .

An NLFT militant was killed in an encounter with the police at Dhanichandpara in Dhalai district yesterday, the police said. A rifle was recovered after the 15-minute encounter, the police said.


Silchar, Jan. 28 
Border Security Force personnel shot dead two persons while they were trying to sneak into Bangladesh from Jabainpur near Karimganj town in south Assam yesterday.

Karimganj deputy commissioner Longki Phangcho said here today that the two persons were crossing the Kushiara river on a boat along with seven others when the BSF personnel opened fire. He said the duo was shot because they opened fire when asked to show their travel permits. The deputy commissioner said the other persons on the boat escaped by jumping into the river. “BSF personnel are trying to find out if any of them drowned,” he added.

Bangladeshi currency to the tune of 34,100 taka and Indian currency amounting to Rs 4,500 were found on the boat. Addresses of some people based at Hojai in Nagaon district were also seized.

It is yet to be ascertained whether the slain duo had links with any militant outfit. The BSF has intensified patrolling along the Indo-Bangladesh border since the incident, the second in the Karimganj sector this month.

Last week, two Bangladeshi citizens were injured when BSF personnel opened fire on them at Sadarasi village under Karimganj district. Phangcho said vigilance on both sides of the border was likely to be reviewed during a flag meeting between BSF and Bangladesh Rifles officials within the next couple of days.


Kohima, Jan. 28 
Nagaland chief minister S.C. Jamir today re-inducted a senior Congress member who had earlier resigned from the two-year-old ministry.

I. Imkong, who had to resign on public demand after his security guards killed two students near Dimapur on May 29, was sworn in this morning as industries and commerce minister at a simple ceremony in Raj Bhavan here.

Imkong, former roads and bridges minister, had to face the students’ wrath in June last year when his security guards opened fire on a vehicle, killing two students. But Jamir later told newsmen that the inquiry report had acquitted Imkong.

Jamir also reshuffled portfolios of some of his senior colleagues and promoted two ministers of state to the rank of Cabinet ministers “to give proper representation to all the tribes”.

While ministers of state Sedem Khaming and Phongshak Phom were inducted into the Cabinet, Sedem was given the additional jail portfolio. Jamir, however, took away the information and public relations portfolio from Sentichuba and allotted it to parliamentary affairs minister Nillo Rengma as an additional charge.

While former veterinary minister K.V. Pusa was given the roads and bridges portfolio, Sentichuba was entrusted with veterinary and animal husbandry. Higher and technical education minister Prof. T. Chuba was given additional charge of land revenue. Jamir is still holding finance.    


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