Left in Bharat bandh call
Take care of Ganga before Water: Panja
Cong leaders seek revival in Mamata’s way
Ten killed as overloaded taxi rams into bus
Consumer meet in Salt Lake
Rebels kill Tripura planter
Majuli records 73% turnout
Encroachment bodes ill for rhinos
Tea industry seeks Army presence in Cachar

Calcutta, Feb 18 
The Left parties, along with several other organisations, are gearing up for a Bharat Bandh to protest the BJP-led central coalition’s “anti-people policies”.

Chief minister Jyoti Basu warned today that a nationwide agitation would precede the proposed bandh. “This is the only option left with us to prevent the Vajpayee government from taking recourse to several anti-people policies. Our MPs will also mount a protest in the Budget session of Parliament, beginning next week,” Basu said.

Reacting to the Centre’s decision to hike the price of petroleum products, the chief minister said, “It is unfortunate that the BJP, which is all set to ruin the country, was voted to power.’’

State Citu general-secretary Chittabrata Majumdar said the date for the national bandh would be decided at a joint meeting in New Delhi on March 9.

Lashing out at the Vajpayee government, Majumdar said that a nationwide strike was “inevitable” as the central policies were increasing the “financial burden on the common people”.

Some Citu leaders suggested that a few constituents of the ruling NDA could also be asked to join forces in the campaign against the government’s anti-people policies.

Trinamul Congress, a key constitutent of the central coalition, today strongly reacted to the government’s proposal to hike petroleum prices. Trinamul spokesman Jayanta Bhattacharya said the price hike will hit the general people where it hurts.

“But a countrywide bandh is not a solution to this,” he stressed, adding that the party leadership will be getting in touch with railway minister Mamata Banerjee about the Left-sponsored strike.

PCC working president Priya Ranjan Das Munshi said the party would not participate in the proposed bandh. “But we definitely condemn the Centre’s anti-people policies,” he said.    

Calcutta, Feb 18 
Protests against the West Bengal government’s invitation to Deepa Mehta to shoot her film Water in Calcutta grew shriller on Friday with Trinamul Congress leader and minister of state for external affairs Ajit Panja hitting out at the Left for getting its priorities wrong.

Panja walked a tightrope, not going against the official Trinamul line —Mamata Banerjee had spoken out against the VHP’s vandalism in Varanasi — but accused the state government of staging a “political gimmick”.

Panja said Buddhadev Bhattacharya, the state police and information and cultural affairs minister, should be more concerned about the pollution of the Ganga instead of advocating the cause of the “controversial film”.

“It is good that Bhattacharya has shown much enthusiasm to enable Deepa Mehta to shoot on the banks of Ganga in Calcutta. But his government should show similar interest in taking adequate measures to prevent the river’s pollution.”

“Has the Left Front government taken any scheme to check the pollution of the Ganga,” he asked.

The Union minister said he did not agree with the stand taken by the Hindu fundementalists. “But I feel there is no need to give so much importance to this issue. We must realise which issues should be given priority.”

Panja said it was ironical that the West Bengal government is keen to be seen as a believer in artistic freedom but has done nothing to reopen the closed Rang Mahal or Star theatres.

“Even I believe in the liberty of artistes. But Mehta is trying to create a worldwide publicity of her film out of this controversy. This should be stopped,” Panja said. “Not a single scene of the film has been shot as yet. But look at the way the shaven-headed actresses are being photographed to gain publicity throughout the world. We have seen eminent film makers like Mrinal Sen and Satyajit Ray. Did they ever do this?,” the Union minister asked.

The Bharatiya Janata Mahila Morcha, the women’s wing of the BJP, organised a huge rally near Metro cinema at Esplanade and burnt the effigies of Shabana Azmi, the main actress and Deepa Mehta, the dirrector of the film protesting shooting of Water in the city.

Meanwhile, the meeting between the chief minister Jyoti Basu and Mehta which was scheduled at writers’ buildings today was cancelled due to Mehta’s illness. Writers’ building sources said that Mehta rang up Basu on Thursday night and informed him of her inability to meet him.    

Calcutta, Feb 18 
A section of state Congress leaders on Friday urged the party leadership to launch a strong “anti-CPM movement”, taking a leaf out of Trinamul Congress chief Mamata Banerjee’s book of protest.

At the general body meeting of the state PCC, leaders like MLA Shankar Singh said that it would be difficult to revive the party unless it projected itself as an effective anti-CPM force.

The meeting at the Netaji Subhas Institute, presided over by state Congress chief A.B.A. Ghani Khan Chowdhury and his deputy Priya Ranjan Das Munshi, was attended by 371 out of a total of 462 PCC members. Youth Congress president Paresh Pal and chief whip Abdul Mannan were conspicuous by their absence.

State Congress working president Das Munshi later said that the PCC had decided not to expel the seven party MLAswho had been openly supporting some of the Trinamul’s policies.

The meeting also saw loyalists of former state Congress chief Somen Mitra demanding his return to the PCC.    

Malda, Feb 18 
Ten people were killed and 31 others injured, 20 of them seriously, when a taxi collided with a private bus on Habibpur—Bulbulchandi national highway, 24 km from Malda town, on Friday afternoon.

All the ten who died were crammed into the Malda-bound taxi which lost control near Tajpur village and hit the bus, moving towards Nalagola, head on.

The victims included three women, a three-year-old child, and the taxi driver. All those who died were residents of nearby Bulbulchandi, Habibpur, Bamangola and Nalagola.

Among them was Madhyamik examinee Khagen Mondal who was on his way from Habibpur to Bulbulchandi to attend tutorial classes. He died in hospital later in the evening.

The injured were rushed to the Malda Sadar Hospital, which was hopelessly ill-equipped to the handle the emergency.

Due to the lack of space, patients with fractures and head injuries were forced to lie down on the floor of the surgical ward.

The district health authorities have rushed additional supplies of saline and antibiotic injections to the hospital.

“The bus driver was reckless from the beginning and we were fearing that such a mishap would occur,” said Durgesh Mondal, an agricultural labourer, who had boarded the bus to go to Dalna.

As news of the accident spread, people from several villages in and around Malda town thronged the hospital premises. The police had a tough time keeping relatives of the accident victims under control.

Till late on Friday night, the authorities had not been able to compile a full list of the dead or the injured. But it is feared that the death toll could rise in the next few days.

Locals have complained that rash driving by bus and lorry drivers has turned the Habibpur-Bulbulchandi highway into a “death zone”.

District magistrate Ajit Ranjan Bardhan said that an inquiry had been ordered into the accident. “The district administration will take action against reckless drivers on the highway,” he added.

The district magistrate has directed the police to immediately increase the number of patrol vehicles on the highway.    

Calcutta, Feb 18 
Nearly 600 consumer activists from Calcutta and the districts will be meeting for a two-day convention at the Salt Lake stadium auditorium from Saturday.

The seventh convention of the Federation of Consumer Associations, West Bengal, will address good governance and citizens’ charters, the Consumer Protection Act, consumer protection in the rural areas and redressal methods other than consumer courts. “A review of the movement over the last decade will also be made,” said Mala Banerjee, president of the federation and chairperson of the national Consumer Coordination Council. Consumer affairs minister Naren De, law minister Nishit Adhikary and rights panel chairman Justice M.G. Mukherjee will attend. The Centre will be represented by consumer affairs ministry secretary K. Srinivasan.    

Agartala, Feb. 18 
Dealing another blow to Tripura’s beleaguered tea industry, National Liberation Front of Tripura militants today hacked a senior tea executive to death in Dharmanagar subdivision of North Tripura district.

Sources said Dhirendra Kumar Nath, manager of Ganganagar tea estate, was inspecting a particular section of the plantation along with his wife Bindu when a group of at least 10 militants pounced on him.

Nath’s wife tried to save her husband from the rebels, but was knocked unconscious with the butt of a rifle.

The tea executive, whose left arm was on a sling because of a fracture sustained four days back, attempted to escape as he was being dragged away. However, the rebels opened fire and stopped him on his tracks. They subsequently hacked him to death.

North Tripura district superintendent of police Nepal Das has launched a combing operation in the area.

Nath’s wife, undergoing treatment at the Dharmanagar Civil Hospital, is stated to be in a critical condition.

Coming within four days of Madhurilata tea estate executive Uttam Das’ abduction, Nath’s killing has triggered panic in tea circles. Tea Association of India secretary P.K. Sarkar said in a statement here that the government’s inability to provide security to tea executives was appalling. He said the gravity of the situation could be gauged from the fact that militants had killed 10 tea planters in the state since 1993.

One of the victims was Yogabrata Chakraborty, proprietor of Mekhlibund tea estate. He was abducted by All-Tripura Tiger Force militants in 1996 and killed after a month in captivity.

The joint owners of Adarini tea estate, Mrinal Kanti Chowdhury and his son Anjan Chowdhury, were also killed by militants in June 1998.

In August the same year, five employees of Narendrapur tea estate in Sadar subdivision were gunned down by Tiger Force rebels. Of the nine tea executives abducted over the past seven years, only four have returned home unhurt.

Sarkar said the Tripura tea industry was dying “slowly but steadily” due to a combination of factors, including militancy, drought and low auction prices. He said a Tea Association of India delegation would meet chief minister Manik Sarkar soon to apprise him of the industry’s problems.    

Guwahati, Feb. 18 
Altogether 73 per cent of the electorate today exercised their franchise in byelections to the Majuli Assembly seat in Upper Assam’s Jorhat district.

Bypolls to the seat were necessitated by the death of Asom Gana Parishad legislator Karuna Dutta.

The Jorhat deputy commissioner told The Telegraph over phone from Majuli that polling was free and fair.

“Voters turned out at the polling booths in large numbers to exercise their franchise,” the deputy commissioner said, adding that adequate security arrangements had been made to prevent any untoward incident during polling.

Having drawn a blank in two successive Lok Sabha elections, the Asom Gana Parishad’s popularity is on test in the world’s largest river island. The party candidate for the seat is Jogeswar Doley.

Four other candidates are in the fray, including Durgeswar Doley of the BJP, Rajib Lochan Pegu of the Congress, Mal Chandra Pegu of the Nationalist Congress Party and Puroshottam Doley. The latter is an Independent candidate.

Sarbananda Sonowal, AGP candidate for the Lakhimpur Lok Sabha seat, garnered the highest number of votes in the Majuli Assembly segment last year. His tally was 20,020 votes, while Rani Narah of the Congress, who won the seat, got 18,564 votes.

Uday Shankar Hazarika of the BJP garnered 15,688 votes in Majuli, while Ranoj Pegu of the Assam Gana Mancha finished with 13,643 votes.

Several AGP leaders, including chief minister Prafulla Kumar Mahanta, visited the island to campaign for Jogeswar Doley. The BJP, which is expected to give the AGP a run for its money, also lined up several leaders, including Union water resources minister Bijoya Chakravarty, former Union telecom minister Kabindra Purkayashta and parliamentarian Rajen Gohain.    

Guwahati, Feb. 18 
Encroachment of land within the Kaziranga National Park and erosion due to floods are the main causes for the decline in the rhinoceros population.

A recent project on “landmass dynamics and rhino habitat suitability” — conducted by the Dehradun-based Indian Remote Sensing Institute in collaboration with the Assam Remote Sensing and Application Centre — concluded that encroachment by humans is posing a threat to the survival of rhinos.

“With the human population in the vicinity growing steadily, the demand for land for cultivation and grazing has increased manifold,” the project report states.

It adds that grazing of domestic animals poses a potential threat to wild animals as they may not only compete for fodder, but also spread diseases like anthrax.

The project, the first of its kind in the Northeast, found a reduction of 20.8 square km in the landmass. “It declined from 428.7 square km in 1967-68 to 407.9 square km in 1997 due to erosion by the Brahmaputra. Considerable siltation of beels were also found, resulting in reduction of waterholes and affecting the overall suitability of the area for animals,” the report states. “In some parts of the park, waterholes have disappeared,” it adds.

According to experts, 98.45 per cent of the park area is “suitable” for the one-horned rhinoceros, while the remaining 1.55 per cent or 6.34 sq. km of land is “unsuitable”.

While 26 per cent of the area has been found to be “highly suitable” for the rhinoceros, 27 per cent is only “moderately suitable”. About 45 per cent of the park area is believed to be “less or least suitable” for the rhino.

“Floods in Kaziranga are perhaps the most severe of all natural calamities occurring in the area. They make up to 90 per cent of the park unsuitable overnight, thus compelling the larger animals to take refuge on the nearby Karbi Anglong Hills,” the report says.

It also expresses dismay over the lack of data on flood-control measures. “Though the idea of creating bunds along the river to prevent the entry of flood waters into the park as also making artificial depressions have already been mooted by various agencies, no work has been taken up so far due to the lack of data,” the report says.    

Silchar, Feb. 18 
Alarmed by the spate of abductions in Lakhipur subdivision and Udarbond block of south Assam’s Cachar district, the Tea Association of India (TAI) has demanded deployment of the Army in all “vulnerable areas” of the Barak Valley.

Addressing the annual general meeting of the association’s Barak Valley branch here today, its chairman J.R. Kothari said the government should set up more police and CRPF pickets in Cachar district.

National Socialist Council of Nagalim (Isak-Muivah), Dima Halam Daoga and People’s United Liberation Front militants have abducted nine tea executives from various plantations in Cachar district since August last year.

On Wednesday, Dimasa rebels abducted Keshab Bhattacharjee, assistant manager of Martycherra tea estate, while he was inspecting nurseries at the plantation’s Icchacherra division. He is yet to be rescued.

Cachar deputy commissioner Santanu Thakur, who attended today’s meeting, said the police and the tea industry could chalk out a joint strategy to prevent militant outfits from targeting planters.

He said labourers could also be trained to patrol tea estates and gather information about militants. “It will be a second line of defence,” he added.

On the problems plaguing the Barak Valley tea industry, Kothari said it was high time the Tea Board allowed the “Assam logo” to be used on packets containing tea manufactured in Cachar. He said this would help Cachar tea fetch higher prices at auctions.

Kothari said the difference in prices of Cachar tea and “Assam tea” had increased to approximately Rs 25 per kg. He said this gap should be narrowed if tea plantations in Cachar are to survive.

The chairman also expressed concern over unemployment among educated youth in the tea plantations in Cachar. He urged the government to create employment avenues for educated unemployed youth.

“The government can make a start by allotting land for cultivation of mustard and sunflower seeds,” he said.    


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