Faceoff over nuclear plant
Ghani reaffirms mahajot pledge
6 labourers crushed in sleep
Metiabruz in throes of cholera, 10 in hospital
10 Midnapore villages ablaze
Mob ransacks rail station
Legal studies hit by lack of good guides: Anand
Bodo front sends talks feelers to army

Calcutta, April 22 
Even before Bengal is awarded the project, lobbies for and against a nuclear power plant in the state have started massing troops for a showdown.

The Nuclear Power Corporation’s proposal to set up a plant in Bengal or Bihar or Orissa has thrown into stark relief the contrasting images presented by the two sides.

The first portrait is the horrifying image of the explosion of a Soviet-era nuclear reactor in Chernobyl on April 28, 1986, which threw up a radioactive fog that killed 50 people. The second is a picture lined up by backers of nuclear power who are trying to drum up support for the move to locate such a plant in the Sunderbans.

Nuclear power opponents have called a meeting on Sunday evening to draw up their battle strategy. Around the same time, supporters of the proposal, led by Radhika Ranjan Pramanik, CPM MP from the Sunderbans area, will gather to build public opinion for a nuclear power plant in Bengal.

Both sides are keenly watching the moves of the state government, which will have to set up a coordination committee to liaise with the site selection committee under the department of atomic energy if it is interested in housing the project.

The opponents are planning to seize the opportunity afforded by the 14th anniversary of the Chernobyl disaster next Friday to discredit the plan. The other side dismisses Chernobyl as just another ‘man-made disaster.’

At the centre of this face-off are two scientists. Bikash Sinha, director of the Saha Institute of Nuclear Physics, Variable Energy Cyclotron Centre, and member of the parliamentary sub-committee on nuclear power, space and defence, will rally supporters of the proposal banded together under the Paschim Banga Vigyan Mancha.

Sujoy Bose, director of the School of Energy Studies, Jadavpur University, and member of a number of advisory committees of the ministry of non-conventional energy resources, will be the star speaker at the show, organised by the Gana Vigyan Samanyay Samiti to oppose the project.

Bose wants the department of atomic energy and the Nuclear Power Corporation to reveal immediately the site selection specification so its suitability can be debated. He said: “Routine radioactive emission is a normal phenomenon for a nuclear plant. The high tide in the area goes right up to Naihati. Calcutta routes its water supply from Palta; thus, one can imagine what havoc routine radioactive emissions can cause. Besides the Sunderbans is a world heritage area, it is populated and any accident will lead to widespread evacuation.”

Sinha is acerbic while rubbishing charges levelled by critics of the proposal: “We can deal with resistance from the village people upset over possible displacement. But it is difficult to crack resistance rooted in intellectualism and dogma. The government must have a strong political will if it wants to bag the project ahead of Orissa and Bihar.”

The Saha Institute, he said, had asked chief minister Jyoti Basu to appoint a small core committee of senior ministers to oversee the plans. “People like Buddhadev Bhattacharya and Asim Dasgupta ought to come forward and take the initiative, as the proposal is good for Bengal and will add muscle to the chief minister’s campaign,” says Sinha.

On the technical side, Sinha admits that the Central Electricity Authority thinks there is no need for nuclear plants in the coal-belt areas of the eastern region. But, he says, “the best coal is taken away from here to western India. Bengal’s thermal plants are run on coal high in ash content.”

Bose is dismissive of the advantages and insists that a nuclear power plant will wreak havoc on the eastern grid. A technical paper giving details on such and other problems is likely to be prepared by the Institute of Engineers shortly and submitted to the state government. “Nuclear power stations are baseload (generation cannot be artificially kept down to match demand) power stations and demand fluctuations are rampant in the eastern grid,” he says.

The anti-lobby alleges that the Nuclear Power Corporation is not known for delivering a plant on schedule or within the original cost estimates. “Narora started at a little over Rs 220 crore but ended up spending twice. A 100-metre foundation had to be dug at Narora as it is in the seismic zone. Sunderbans’ biggest problem is that it is a cyclone-prone area,” says a source.

Opponents dismiss the national power grid, into which the Bengal plant’s generation is expected to be fed, as a distant possibility, not expected before 2012. A nuclear plant takes at least four years to build and site selection formalities are likely to take up to a year. One can, thus, expect the plant to come up by 2006.

The proposal has unnerved thermal power stations in the region, as they will have to back down generation, leading to heavy financial loss. CESC’s Balagarh thermal power plant, Damodar Valley Corporation’s Maithon right bank and West Bengal’s own Sagardighi project are in the pipeline.    

Calcutta, April 22 
Less than a day after AICC observer Ghulam Nabi Azad asserted that the party would put up nominees against the BJP in the municipal polls, Trinamul leader and railway minister Mamata Banerjee on Saturday said PCC chief A.B.A. Ghani Khan Chowdhury had assured her about his firm commitment to the mahajot.

“Barkatda has even agreed not to put up party nominees against BJP candidates at certain wards in Malda,” she said.

The PCC chief substantiated the Trinamul leader’s assertion, reiterating that his tie with Mamata will be maintained at any cost.

“The CPM’s conspiracy to drive a wedge between me and Mamata will not succeed,” he told reporters at his Salt Lake residence.

Mamata ruled out exclusion of the BJP from her proposed mahajot of anti-CPM forces and urged state Congress leaders to declare their stand to avoid confusion among party workers.

Mamata also made it clear that she will campaign only for the mahajot candidates in the municipal and civic elections. “I will campaign only for Trinamul and BJP candidates in the wards where there will be no seat adjustment among the anti-CPM parties,” she observed.

She conceded that the three parties may not achieve 100 per cent seat adjustment within the short span of time left for the civic polls.

“But the concept of mahajot has come to stay and will turn full-blown before the Assembly elections,” she said.

The Trinamul leader said she had a perfect understanding with Ghani Khan Chowdhury, state Youth Congress president Paresh Pal and a host of party legislators as far as mahajot was concerned.

“I had a talk with Barkatda and Paresh on Saturday morning and both stood firm in their commitment,” she said.

It was evident that the target of her criticism was the AICC and state Congress leaders like Priya Ranjan Das Munshi and Saugata Roy, who have been clamouring for the BJP’s exclusion from the mahajot.

Asked about possible dilution in the Congress ideology if the party goes for seat adjustment with the BJP, the Trinamul leader said: “The Congress fought against Laloo Prasad Yadav in the Bihar Assembly polls, but later joined his government due to political compulsions. Similarly, in West Bengal, the party has a political compulsion to join hands with anti-CPM forces.”

Mamata also ruled out the possibility of her quitting the National Democratic Alliance and returning to the Congress.

“Trinamul Congress is the real Congress. We have shed our blood and sweat to build the party. Why should I desert it? I cannot betray the people,” she said.

Re-affirming her commitment to the NDA, Mamata said: “I am grateful to the BJP’s national executive, which extended its full support to the mahajot. I cannot ditch the BJP and adopt double standards. It does not matter if we lose a few seats for maintaining the alliance.”    

Calcutta, April 22 
Six labourers of the Calcutta Municipal Corporation(CMC) were crushed to death when a speeding truck rammed into a roadside tent they were sleeping in at Baranagar, in North 24-Parganas.

Four of them died on the spot, while two succumbed to their injuries on way to RG Kar Hospital. The driver of the truck fled, but left behind the vehicle.

The police superintendent of North 24-Parganas, Kuldeep Singh, said the labourers, all residents of Bhagabangola, in Murshidabad, had been hired by the CMC to repair the sewerage system at Baranagar. Five of the victims were identified as Md Tinku, 16, Md Rafikul, 18, Md Dalim, 17, Md Ukil, 20, and Md Selim, 22. Their relatives have been informed, Singh said.

The mishap occurred around 6.15 am in front of the Indian Statistical Institute on BT Road. The driver of the iron scrap-laden truck heading for Barrackpore lost control over the vehicle and crashed into the tent.

Owners of nearby shops rushed to extricate the labourers but lack of equipment hampered rescue operations.

Nearly half an hour later, residents of the area joined the rescue work, along with forces from Baranagar police station. They dragged out the mangled bodies of four. Two others were extricated but died on way to hospital. The vehicle has been impounded.    

Calcutta, April 22 
Contaminated water has caused a small-scale outbreak of cholera in the Metiabruz area of south-west Calcutta. At least 10 persons have had to be hospitalised, four of them at Infectious Diseases Hospital in Beliaghata.

A report submitted by the National Institute of Cholera and Enteric Diseases (NICED) to the state health department on Thursday has confirmed that the patients with diarrhoeal symptoms had been infected by cholera after drinking contaminated water. The institute was asked to investigate after the first set of patients were admitted to ID Hospital about 10 days ago. A team was sent to the area and samples of tubewell and tap water were collected. Laboratory tests have detected cholera germs. The water sources have been sealed.

“This is the first of several such outbreaks that are likely to occur in the coming summer months,” a NICED official said on Friday. The Metiabruz outbreak lends credence to the fact that Indians account for 25 per cent of the world population not getting clean water. “It is a shame this situation exists in a city like Calcutta after 52 years of Independence,” a doctor said. Unhygienic conditions and congestion causes the water-borne disease to spread.

A major outbreak could occur any time between April and July, the NICED official warned, advising residents of these areas to boil their drinking water, and immediately to start on ORS solutions if an attack of diarrhoea takes place.    

Midnapore, April 22 
Kespur is on fire after another CPM supporter was murdered on Friday. A mob of CPM cadre have set ablaze 10 villages known to be Trinamul Congress strongholds.

The police superintendent of Midnapore, Gaurav Dutt, said at least 70 houses in different villages were set ablaze and more than a hundred looted.

Kespur has been cut off by the CPM men, who blocked roads in about 25 places, stopping all vehicular movement. The party has called a 24-hour Kespur bandh demanding immediate arrest of the killers.

The violence started with the murder of a CPM local committee member, Anukul Digar, 53. Digar was coming to Midnapore town to attend a court case.

He was allegedly dragged off a crowded bus by Trinamul supporters and taken to nearby Amalda village, where his abductors gunned him down.

The body was taken to the Parang riverbed, and the police arrived while the killers were digging a pit to hide the corpse. As the news spread, armed CPM cadre attacked different villages with Trinamul leanings. But no arrest has so far been made.    

Calcutta, April 22 
Train services were disrupted between Sealdah and Bongaon for more than three hours on Saturday after commuters ransacked Duttapukur station, in North 24-Parganas, earlier in the day.

The passengers blocked both the Up and Down tracks in Duttapukur and Ashoknagar station. An Eastern Railway spokesman said trouble broke out after the railway decided to cancel a Sealdah-bound Habra local.

The violence spread as soon as the Duttapukur station authorities announced the cancellation. The crowd went on the rampage and damaged station office equipment. It also assaulted the station master.

A group of commuters squatted on the tracks and blocked trains. Shuttle trains were run between Sealdah and Bamanhachhi station till the blockade was lifted around 11.10 am.    

Calcutta, April 22 
The quality of legal education in the country is not up to the mark, crippled mainly by a dearth of good law teachers.

Both the chief justice of India and the West Bengal chief minister highlighted this deficiency on Saturday during a function that initiated a major effort to overcome falling standards.

Laying the foundation stone of the West Bengal National University of Juridical Sciences (NUJS) off the E.M. Bypass in Salt Lake, Justice A.S. Anand warned that unless this deterioration was checked, the secular fabric of the country would be endangered.

Stressing the need for a qualitative change in the legal education system, chief minister Jyoti Basu was hopeful that the national university would reverse the situation. “This is the beginning of a much-needed recovery. Today, good governance demands good legal practice.”

The chief justice traced the measures to improve the situation ever since the first formal legal education centres in the country were set up at the universities of Calcutta, Madras and Bombay.

The National Law School in Bangalore had given some status to legal education. He hoped that, with the Bengal government granting autonomy to NUJS, this, too, would become a centre of excellence.

The chief justice suggested that NUJS start an advanced course for training law teachers to overcome the shortage in this field.

Justice Anand felt that graduates of law schools should not be merely lawyers, but social engineers as well. “They should be able to deliver economic and social justice.”

And now, with globalisation, lawyers should also have basic knowledge and awareness of social sciences, and especially of Internet and e-commerce laws, as the world economy was changing. Justice Anand suggested that law colleges introduce courses on these subjects.

NUJS vice-chancellor N.R. Madhava Menon said the university would start functioning at Aranya Bhavan from June and that 86 students had been admitted for B.Sc/B.A. LL.B honours courses.

He said the university would initially have three departments: school of criminal law and police sciences, school of environmental law and sustainable development, and school of international trade.

Other disciplines would begin once the university’s own building came up.    

Umroi (Meghalaya), April 22 
With the Bodo Liberation Tigers having declared a ceasefire and the other Bodo rebel group, the National Democratic Front of Boroland (NDFB), sending feelers for peace talks, there is finally a glimmer of hope that the “Bodoland” crisis may be resolved soon.

General-officer-commanding (GOC) of the Army’s Four Corps Lt. Gen. D.H. Shekatkar told The Telegraph that “a top-level leader” of the political wing of the NDFB spoke to him over telephone last week and expressed his outfit’s willingness to come forward for talks with the government. “This is a very positive development,” Gen. Shekatkar said, adding, “Even a senior member of the outfit’s military wing spoke to me a few days ago.”

He said the Army was ready to meet the NDFB leaders anywhere in the country. “But I have made it clear that the meeting should be an unconditional one,” he added. Gen. Shekatkar is on a three-day official visit to the 24 Mountain Brigade headquarters here.

In 1998, following an initiative by defence minister George Fernandes, the NDFB had responded to feelers sent through a Guwahati-based lawyer. However, there was no breakthrough.

The GOC, who is the operational head of the unified command structure, said the NDFB was under “tremendous pressure” in Bhutan following “differences of opinion” with the Ulfa recently.

“After the National Socialist Council of Nagalim(Isak-Muivah) declared a ceasefire in 1997, some of the activists wanted to follow in the footsteps of the Naga outfit as they did not want to be isolated,” Gen. Shekatkar said. The NSCN(I-M) has been playing a crucial role in training the Bodo outfit over the past two decades.

The GOC said the NDFB top brass grumbled that the Army was being “unnecessarily” kind to the Bodo Liberation Tigers. “I feel that after the BLT ceasefire, the NDFB has been under tremendous pressure,” he said.    


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