Hey Ram in red crossfire
Teachers’ boycott derails Jadavpur exams
Police chips under roads to help sniff out snarls
More Bihar trains cancelled
Airport arrest sparks swoop on Naga bases
Chiffons and capital sense
Eight more killed in unabated Ulfa violence
Meghalaya govt in throes of political crisis
Plum portfolios allocated to BJD ministers
Phizo faction seeks role in Nagaland truce

 
 
HEY RAM IN RED CROSSFIRE 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, March 6 
Subhas Chakraborty has invited sneers and jeers from his party for organising a programme on Tuesday to felicitate Kamal Haasan, maker of Hey Ram, but he is urging the CPM to use the film in its campaign against communalism.

Chakraborty is expecting chief minister Jyoti Basu and his deputy Buddhadev Bhattacharya to be present at the Netaji Indoor Stadium on Tuesday, even if the apparatchiki are unhappy he is venturing into turf Alimuddin Street regards its own.

Hardliners like party secretary Anil Biswas and Left Front chairman Sailen Dasgupta have refused to accord the function the status of an official “party porgramme”. They are angry that Chakraborty did not seek their permission before going ahead with the arrangements.

“Tuesday’s function at Netaji Indoor Stadium is not a party programme,” said Dasgupta. Biswas and Dasgupta have been invited but said they will not attend. The hardliners are also annoyed that the initiative has been taken by a person who is not a member of the party’s cultural sub-committee.

Chakraborty has given them all the reasons to be angry. He invited railway minister Mamata Banerjee to the function. However, Mamata left for Delhi this evening, making it slightly easier for Chakraborty to head off party criticism. Chakraborty, however, denied inviting the Trinamul leader, but stuck to his stand on the function.

Chakraborty, who saw the film on his son’s insistence, is impressed by its theme. “I personally feel the movie can help us (the Left) in our campaign against the BJP”, he said.

But apparatchiki like Dasgupta do not share his enthusiasm. “I have not seen the film. But I feel there are thousands of issues we can take up against the BJP-led government,” he said.

Chakraborty is also questioning if the party has not let its guard against communal forces down. “The party’s attitude to the issue is wrong. We did not launch any campaign when BJP unleashed atrocities on Christians and minorities. We did not stir at all when the Steinses were burnt. Our youth and student wings were not mobilised. Now Hey Ram presents us with an opportunity to redeem ourselves,” he said.

“Jyotibabu and Buddhababu are not outside the party, so how can they (the hardliners) say the party is not associated with the felicitation?” He said he had first wanted the Indian Peoples’ Theatre Association to felicitate Kamal Haasan. But it backed out, possibly under pressure.

Chakraborty said it had also been suggested to him that he invite Deepa Mehta, director of Water. He had done so and if she attended, she would also be feted for holding her own against the Sangh parivar.    


 
 
TEACHERS’ BOYCOTT DERAILS JADAVPUR EXAMS 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, March 6 
Under-graduate examinations of at least 15 departments in Jadavpur University were postponed after teachers began an agitation on Monday.

The teachers are protesting against a state government order of February 25 that withdraws a number of financial benefits to them. Most of these benefits were granted by the Centre last year.

The authorities deferred the examinations because the teachers decided to boycott all administrative work. This includes invigilating in examination halls, setting question papers and examining answer scripts.

The teachers have said they will only take classes and will not take up any other university work.

“We were shocked to get the government order. We feel extremely insulted to find that a number of benefits which the state government had already started implementing a few months ago have been withdrawn,” said Tarun Naskar, general secretary, Jadavpur University Teachers’ Association (JUTA).

Many departments were scheduled to hold supplementary examinations on Monday.

These examinations were to be held to enable students to clear the subjects in which they had not fared well in a particular semester.

The only teacher who conducted examinations was Debesh Das of the computer sciences department. Das, a former CPM MLA, does not support the JUTA leadership.

Though a majority of the students support the teachers, they were worried over the consequences if the movement continued for a long time.

Major under-graduate and post-graduate examinations of the university are scheduled to begin from the last week of April.

“The teachers’ movement will definitely delay the final examinations, as the teachers will abstain from setting our question papers and other examination work during the movement. The sooner the dispute is sorted out the better,” said a fourth-year student of the mechanical engineering department.

JUTA general secretary Naskar said the association had urged the government to issue an order to meet the teachers’ genuine demands in connection with the upward revision of pay-scales, as recommended by the Central government and the University Grants Commission.

The February 25 order is not only silent about those demands but has also revoked a number of benefits which were already implemented by the state government last year.

For instance, on the basis of the recommendation of the Central government, the state government had started released funds for additional increments to teachers holding Ph.D degrees. The February 25 order has revoked this facility.

The revoking of the increment meant that the teachers will have to return the amount which had been already granted to them since last year.

“We will not tolerate this kind on an onslaught,” said Naskar. The order also does not say a word on payment of arrears.

A senior officer of the university said it would not be possible to hold examinations without the involvement of teachers.

He said the university had sought the advice of the state higher education department.    


 
 
POLICE CHIPS UNDER ROADS TO HELP SNIFF OUT SNARLS 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, March 6 
Learning from its counterpart in Delhi, Calcutta Police has decided to instal a computerised traffic monitoring system.

Electronic devices on the Maidan, on AJC Bose Road, at Mullick Bazar, on Park Street, and at Chowringhee and BBD Bag will give real-time updates to computerised control rooms on the flow and volume of traffic. It the system works, it will also be used in other streets.

The devices will form part of the police’s “area traffic control system”. They will help to forecast snarls that are inevitable when an estimated nine lakh vehicles crowd the roads daily.

“We can avoid snarls by collating information on traffic movement,” said a police officer. “For instance, in Mullick Bazar, if the flow of traffic on Park Street is heavier than the flow of traffic on Lower Circular Road, the green signal on Park Street will be on longer.”

The joint commissioner of police (traffic), V.V. Thambi, said a proposal to fund the system has been sent to the state and Union home (police) departments. “We have asked for Rs 10 crore. A team of senior officials of the Union home (police) department has already visited the city to discuss the project. We are hoping to get the funds both from the Centre and the state government,” he said.

The first phase of the area traffic control system will cover Red Road, Park Street, Jawaharlal Nehru Road, BBD Bag and the stretch between AJC Bose Road and Mullick Bazar.

Engineers said sensors embedded about six inches below the road surface will feed data that computers will analyse to indicate the flow and volume of traffic on roads converging at a crossing.

“We can easily adjust the time of red and green signals of the automatic signalling systems on the basis of the feedback,” said Thambi.

The duration of the red and green signals of these automatic signals is now fixed. Traffic police fix the time of signals after a rough manual count of vehicles. The signals operate on the basis of a dated analysis of the volume of vehicles in peak hours. “We have noticed that the volume of traffic suddenly increases on different roads during the day due to the no-entry signs put up at various places and diversion of traffic for many reasons,” officials said.

The police do not have real-time feedback on the sudden increase in the flow of vehicles from a direction. This results in traffic congestion at crossings.

“If there is a heavy flow of vehicles from any direction and there is no traffic on other roads, these signals function on the basis of the fixed timings,” traffic engineers said.

The police have also sought help from the Calcutta Municipal Corporation and the Public Works Department to improve the condition of the roads at the crossings where the area traffic control system will be introduced.    


 
 
MORE BIHAR TRAINS CANCELLED 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, March 6 
The Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) agitation in Bihar continued to play havoc with railway schedules, forcing the authorities to cancel a number of trains from Howrah, Sealdah, Patna and Malda on Tuesday.

From Howrah, the 3007 Up Udayanabha Toofan Express and from Sealdah, the 3111 Up Lalquila Express, have been cancelled. The Bhagalpur-Patna Inter-City Express (3401 Up and 3402 Down), leaving both Bhagalpur and Patna, and the Patna Rajdhani Express (2309 Up) have also been cancelled.

Five other trains — the Howrah-Delhi Janata Express, Hatia/Ranchi-Patna Express, the Ganga-Damodar Express, Vikramshila Express and the Patna-Gaya Passenger —- have been cancelled till further notice.

The Farakka Express (3483 Up) from Malda also stands cancelled.

The trains cancelled on Monday were the Danapur Express (3231 Up) from Howrah; the Lalquila Express (3111 Up) from Sealdah; the Patna-Kurla Express (3201 Up); and the Bhagalpur-Patna Inter-City Express, leaving both Bhagalpur and Patna.

A dozen railway cabins were said to have been ransacked by RJD supporters between Mokama and Mughalsarai. Telecommunication lines have been snapped at many places.Services on the main line being severely disrupted, trains have been diverted via the Gaya-Dhanbad route.

The disruption in services is likely to continue for some more days, railway sources feared.    


 
 
AIRPORT ARREST SPARKS SWOOP ON NAGA BASES 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, March 6 
Calcutta police in coordination with Mizoram police raided several hideouts of the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN) in the city on Monday. This followed the arrest of a senior Naga rebel leader, Muivah Grinder.

Grinder was arrested at the Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose airport on Saturday for his involvment in the plan to hijack an aircraft from Aizawl to demand the release of NSCN (IM) leader T. Muivah now in the custody of Thai police.

The raids, which started on Monday evening, carried on late into the night.

The police fanned out over several parts of central Calcutta, in and around Ripon Street beside raiding Watgunge and other port areas in a bid to track down the associates of Grinder.

Deputy commissioner of police, security control, R. Gupta, said that a team of senior police officials from Mizoram arrived in the city on Monday to take Grinder back to their state and to flush out the rebel’s associates and unearth all his underground connections in Calcutta.

“Acting on a tip-off, Grinder, a co-accused in the hijack bid plot was arrested by security control officials immediately after he landed at the airport from Bangkok,” Gupta added.

Preliminary investigation revealed that Muivah came to the city to take shelter and chalk out plans with his comrades to hijack the plane. His associates were scheduled to reach the city on Monday.

He had also come to the city earlier with his comrade, K. Raju Rangan who was arrested on February 7 at Aizawl’s Lengpui airport when he tried to cross the security cordon in disguise of a senior official of civil aviation ministry.

Grinder also told the police that they also booked four air tickets for boarding a plane end of this month in a bid to hijack the aircraft.

The booking was made with the help of an agent in Calcutta. “The date and name of the airlines will not be disclosed in the interest of investigation,” intelligence officials said. Police is also trying to trace the agent.

The officials said that Grinder had gone to Bangkok to allegedly meet Muivah.

Thereafter a “look out” notice was circulated among security officials of all airports in the country to catch the 40-year-old.

The Mizoram police had obtained evidence about Grinder’s involvment in the plot to hijack an aircraft in Mizoram’s Lengpui airport.    


 
 
CHIFFONS AND CAPITAL SENSE 
 
 
BY SUBHRO SAHA
 
Calcutta, March 6 
Move over kitty parties, welcome cyber chats. The millennium glam mams are here.

With 2001 set to be observed as women empowerment year, the city’s high-flying housewives are now talking mergers and acquisitions, venture capital funding and direct taxation. Buoyed by the belief that a global papad portal alone can sell papad worth crores, they are now dreaming of doing business in dollars sitting at home.

Millennium Mams, a forum of ‘knowledge empowered’ housewives, lit up Monday evening at a city club, not just through the dazzle of their designer outfits, but by their keen analysis of Budget 2000 and its implications.

Issues as diverse as macro economics, direct and indirect taxes, capital markets and infotech were discussed — on the basis of carefully-constructed papers — to match estimations with performance and expectations with action.

“We are facing a major deficit of 5.6 per cent of GDP and our borrowings have gone up by a mindboggling 100,000 crores,” observed Madhu Kanoi. Rachana Bhagat declared that “38 per cent of dotcom start-ups in Silicon Valley are initiated by Indians” and claimed the Indian software sector “by itself will provide 7.5 per cent of the nation’s GDP growth, earning revenues of $ 87 billion”.

Shalini Bagaria hailed the additional rebate of Rs 5,000 for women tax-payers announced in the budget, as also the customs duty cut on platinum and diamonds. “Indian beauties will sparkle brighter on these sops as diamonds are surely forever,” she gushed.

But where did the impetus to hit the informtaion highway come from? Says Bishnu Dhanuka, the man behind this exclusive club of women: “I had a dream to offer to housewives, some formula for productive utilisation of their idle time in the form of classes which are held once a week for two hours, one hour for capital markets and another for accounts. The duration of the course is about 18 months.”

After completing the course, the housewives go on to join Millennium Mams. The idea of the forum is to provide “continuity, facility for interaction and propagation of the vision”.

Dhanuka, who kicked off this novel project in the memory of his deceased wife in April, ’95, strongly believes “the woman can be a more successful investor than a man”.

And how do his ‘students’ stand to benefit? “For one, my confidence level has improved dramatically and I’m getting a hang of the market mechanism now,” says Vijaya Mittal, who opted to continue with Dhanuka’s classes even after finishing her course. “My knowledge in these specialised areas has also given me better social recognition.”

Shalini Bagaria agrees the discourses have gone a long way “in broadening our horizon and equipping us to start something of our own”. And emerge as The New Woman.    


 
 
EIGHT MORE KILLED IN UNABATED ULFA VIOLENCE 
 
 
OUR BUREAU
 
Guwahati, March 6 
Eight persons, including five civilians, were killed when suspected Ulfa militants opened fire on a police team in Upper Assam’s Tinsukia district last night.

Sources said a team from the Sadiya police station had gone to Majuligaon around 11.45 pm to rescue a girl, Sabitri Gogoi, “abducted” by one Hirendra Borgohain. Though the girl’s father had lodged an abduction case, sources said she had eloped.

After rescuing the girl, the team led by assistant sub-inspector Nilambar Duara was returning to the police station along with the girl’s father Bhada Gogoi, the “kidnapper”, his mother Kalima Borgohain and sister Debajani when the rebels opened fire.

Duara, the girl, her father, the “kidnapper” and his two relatives were killed on the spot along with constable Mohon Sonowal. An Ulfa rebel, Ukil Siring alias Jibon Siring, was also killed in the shootout.

A 9 mm pistol with 14 rounds of ammunition, an empty magazine of AK-47 assault rifle, 76 rounds of empty AK-47 bullets and two flashlights were recovered from the slain militant. Senior police officials have rushed to the spot and a combing operation has been launched to flush out the killers. The motive behind the attack is not yet known, police sources said.

Director-general of police P.V. Sumant said they were yet to ascertain “whether it was a routine ambush of a police vehicle or something else.”

VIP security

The attack on Assam veterinary minister Hiranya Konwar on Sunday has raised doubts over the efficacy of VIP security, our Jorhat correspondent reports.

The attack was carried out despite intense patrolling by the local police. Altogether 40 persons were picked up for interrogation.

A senior police official admitted that it was becoming difficult to detect explosives with the naked eye. “The local police had been informed much ahead of the minister’s visit. Though the police were on high alert, the militants narrowly missed their target. It was disturbing,” a senior police official in Sivsagar district said.

Konwar had a narrow escape when the Ulfa triggered off an explosion on the Purani-Rajgarh road under Charaideo sub-division in Sivsagar district. The blast damaged the boot of the vehicle. The minister was returning from the sradh ceremony of a party worker, Diganta Bezbaruah, who killed in a road accident a month ago. After the assassination of state forest minister Nagen Sarma on February 27 in a blast in Nalbari district, the state government had issued a standing order to beef up security for ministers on tour.

The official said besides intensive patrolling, dog squads and metal detectors have to be used for detecting landmines.

Superintendent of police, Sivasagar, T. P. Singh, said, “The bomb was planted several days ago on the kutccha road but it escaped detection by personnel of Kakotibari and Moran police station, who were constantly patrolling the area.”

Narrating the incident, Konwar said, “I was returning from the sradh ceremony of an AGP worker. Though the area is an Ulfa stronghold, I decided to attend the ceremony as Diganta was a dedicated AGP worker. As my vehicle approached Rongali Deogariah on the Puroni- Rajgarh road, I heard a deafening sound.

It was at around 1.30 pm. My vehicle was thrown up more than two feet above the ground. I thought I was dead, but I managed to keep my nerves cool and asked my driver not to get nervous and continue driving.”    


 
 
MEGHALAYA GOVT IN THROES OF POLITICAL CRISIS 
 
 
OUR BUREAU
 
Shillong, March 6 
Chief minister B.B. Lyngdoh was today forced to relinquish the post of chairman and parliamentary party leader of the United Democratic Party (UDP). He failed to garner enough support at a crucial parliamentary party meeting this evening.

Speaker and party president E.K. Mawlong was elected UDP parliamentary party leader after the two-hourlong meeting.

But it is not immediately clear whether Mawlong will become chief minister within the next few days. Lyngdoh did not indicate he would be relinquishing the post but said he would leave the UDP.

Earlier in the day Lyngdoh had issued an order to UDP legislators not to attend the parliamentary party meeting. But he surprised everyone by turning up. He ended up chairing the meeting.

At a news conference later Lyngdoh said his resignation “had been accepted straightaway.”

He added, “I will join a national party.” Asked whether he would be leaving the chief minister’s chair, he replied, “Naturally.” But the next moment he indicated otherwise.

His colleagues told newsmen not to “take his statements seriously about the part on his joining a national party.”

A UDP press statement said, “A parliamentary party held under the chairmanship of B.B. Lyngdoh accepted his offer to relinquish the office of the chairman and leader of the parliamentary party and unanimously elected E.K. Mawlong in his place.”

A jubilant Mawlong told newsmen that he would meet Governor M.M. Jacob to apprise him of the change of guard in the UDP, the leading party in the ruling coalition. The UDP has 40 MLAs including the chief minister. The UDP has been informally divided into two factions. Lyngdoh is said to be left with only five loyal MLAs at present.

Mawlong, along with BJP legislators and home minister T.H. Rangad, Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) legislature party leader Lotsing A. Sangma and some UDP ministers had met Governor M.M. Jacob last evening to apprise him of the impending change in the state’s leadership.

Lyngdoh has come in for a lot of flak for his failings — his old age, his forgetfulness and his indecisiveness. But what has irked party legislators the most is the fact that he is at the mercy of his daughter and two businessmen, who are referred to as the “kitchen Cabinet” by the MLAs.

The tiny hill state of Meghalaya has witnessed a great deal of political flux after the elections on February 16, 1998. A Congress government under the leadership of Salseng C. Marak was sworn in on February 27, 1998. Marak was voted out of office on March 10, when he failed to prove his majority on the floor of the Assembly.

Lyngdoh was then asked to form the government.

The veteran UDP leader formed the Meghalaya Parliamentary Forum (MPF) government on March 10, 1998 with the support of the BJP, the Hill State Peoples’ Democratic Party (HSPDP) and two Independent MLAs.

Australian offer: Australian High Commissioner Rob Laurie today met chief minister B.B. Lyngdoh and offered support for the development of Meghalaya.

Women’s day: The Meghalaya State Social Welfare Advisory Board and the directorate of social welfare along with several non-governmental organisations (NGOs) will observe International Women’s Day on Wednesday.    


 
 
PLUM PORTFOLIOS ALLOCATED TO BJD MINISTERS 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Bhubaneswar, March 6 
Chief minister Naveen Patnaik today distributed most of the plum portfolios to Biju Janata Dal members after denying the BJP the number two position in the coalition government.

Signalling his party’s dominance in the government, Patnaik retained the crucial departments of home, general administration, water resources, agriculture and information and technology himself. The BJD ministers were given finance, excise, health, panchayati raj, steel and mines, energy, forest, works and housing, tourism, school and mass education and parliamentary affairs.

The BJP received revenue, industry, rural development, urban development, food and civil supply, textile, labour and commerce and transport and higher education, among other departments.

“We have not got a fair deal. Except revenue, urban development, industry and rural development, the other departments are insignificant compared to the departments given to BJD ministers,” a senior BJP functionary said.

Patnaik aides said the BJP had no right to complain after accepting the departments “willingly” during negotiations. They said the chief minister had also made it clear that he might not have a deputy to avoid a power struggle in the government in future.

Senior BJP leader Biswa Bhusan Harichandan yesterday accused Patnaik of “ditching” his party by not giving them the deputy chief ministership. He said the BJP state unit had made its dis pleasure known to the party high command.

The BJP lost its bargaining power considerably after losing 25 of the 63 seats it had contested.

Patnaik gave the finance, planning and cooperation portfolios to Ramkrushna Patnaik, a close aide, the works, housing and parliamentary affairs portfolios to Nalini Kanta Mohanty and steel and mines and energy to A.U. Singh Deo.

Other BJD leaders with key departments are — Ananda Acharya (excise), Kamala Das (health and family welfare), Surendra Nath Nayak (panchayati raj), Adwait Prasad Singh (forest and environment), Bijoyshree Routray (tourism and culture) and Ranendra Pratap Swain (sports and youth services).

The BJP leaders who got important portfolios are — Biswa Bhusan Harichandan (revenue, law and fisheries), Samir Dey (urban development), Kanak Vardhan Singh Deo (industry), Bed Prakash Agarwal (food and civil supply), Prashant Nanda (rural development and higher education) and Droupadi Murmu (commerce and transport).

Patnaik said his government would be pro-poor and concentrate on basic issues like agriculture, health and education. He said his immediate task was to reconstruct the cyclone-ravaged coastal area and house the homeless, despite being handicapped by an “empty” coffer.

Asked if he would let government employees joining the RSS, Patnaik said he was heading a secular government and would act accordingly. The BJD did not consider the RSS a political outfit, he added. Patnaik said his government would try to stem corruption and improve efficiency. It would also adopt austerity measures to tide over the financial crisis.    


 
 
PHIZO FACTION SEEKS ROLE IN NAGALAND TRUCE 
 
 
FROM SENTINARO JAMIR
 
Kohima, March 6 
The Naga National Council (NNC), pioneer of the Naga movement for independence, has expressed its willingness to hold talks with the Centre for a lasting solution to the Naga political problem.

In a letter addressed to Rev. L. Swohie Mhasi and Rev. V. K. Nuh, NNC president Adinno Phizo said, “A just and honourable solution can be found once the Union government is ready for a serious dialogue with the true Naga mandate represented by the Naga National Council”.

Reiterating the NNC stand, Adinno said the NNC believed in non-violence and was committed to a peaceful solution.

“Progressive thinkers all over the world now talk of the new world order as a non-violent approach to future settlement in international disputes,” the communiqué from London said, adding, “Unfortunately the Centre still believes it can outwit the Nagas by pursuing a divide and rule policy.” Adinno Phizo, who took over as the NNC president after her father A. Z. Phizo’s death in 1990, claimed that any bilateral agreement, treaty, accord or convention initiated without the consent of the NNC was invalid.

Stating that there were several opportunities for meaningful dialogue during A. Z. Phizo’s tenure, she said it could not progress because of interference by middle-ranking officials.

“Despite the Centre’s denial, it is a historical fact that Nagaland is not Indian territory,” the NNC president reiterated saying, “The Naga mission in London is fully cognisant of the international trends and is always ready to take advantage of fresh opportunities in furthering Naga interest.”

While stating that the Naga people yearned for peace like everyone else, Adinno regretted that the prevailing situation in the state was a fallout of the Centre’s policies. She hoped that the new millennium would usher in positive development.

State power minister K. Therie expressed happiness over the willingness of different underground factions to hold talks with the Centre. Talking to The Telegraph here today, Therie said both the NSCN(Khaplang) and the NNC have agreed to negotiate with the Centre for the first time in 50 years. Therie said if the Centre was sincere, it would have held consultative meetings from time to time.    

 

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