Atal council to count cost of ammo ashes
Memorial to drought’s dead
Delhi buys time as US hits Pak with terror rap
Calcutta Weather

New Delhi, April 30 
The Cabinet Committee on Security will meet within the next three days to take stock of the Bharatpur ammunition depot blaze and decide how fast the government needs to procure replacements for the shells blown up during the 36-hour fireworks.

Defence minister George Fernandes today met Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee and briefed him on the extent of the damage. The army-appointed staff court of inquiry, headed by major-general C.B. Suku, has also begun its probe, assisted by a group of explosives experts and frontline commanders.

Although there has been no concrete assessment of the loss in terms of money, the guess is that 10,000 tonnes of ammunition for small arms and field guns of various sizes have been blown up. The last explosion was heard yesterday evening. Though ballistic experts have started combing operations, the fear of unexploded shells going off is still there.

By the time the Cabinet committee, which also includes home minister L.K. Advani, finance minister Yashwant Sinha and foreign minister Jaswant Singh, meets, a clearer picture would have emerged from the army. National security adviser Brajesh Mishra, who will also attend the meeting, said in Patiala that as per his information, there was no evidence of sabotage, adds PTI.

“What we understand is (the fire was caused by the) negligence of local labourers,” he said.

Despite the government’s reluctance to reveal too many details, it is more than apparent that a significant portion of its countrywide arsenal has been blown up over Friday and Saturday. However, long-range missiles stockpiled in underground magazines have escaped the inferno.

Given the Vajpayee government’s emphasis on security, the committee, sources said, would call for early replacement of stocks. Though the army has budgetary allocations for emergencies of this nature, the blaze may have surpassed such anticipated costs by several times.

Therefore, according to the sources, the government would have to bail out the army at a time when it is saddled with a variety of economic problems and is being pressed to roll back a few tough fiscal measures. Some retired army officials have said the loss could be nearly Rs 2,000 crore.

The Centre will also have to decide whether an open plinth dump with an underground magazine should be allowed to remain at the same place. Usually, these are classified information. If the fire had not raged from Friday afternoon, there were few who knew that Bharatpur stocked more than 10,000 tonnes of ammunition in open plinths and also had an underground storage facility for long-range missiles. Many in the military establishment are suggesting that the dump would have to be shifted from Bharatpur.

The committee would also ask the army to take preventive measures for the future. The defence ministry may be asked to make a study of safety measures at other dumps in the country and suggest a fool-proof system.

The death toll has not yet been confirmed. It could be anywhere between two and five — all civilians who died from shrapnels striking them as the shells flew in various directions. The toll might go up once the salvage teams reach all the 49 above-ground storage facilities within the compound.

The army today tried to deflect criticism saying that it was the heat wave with the mercury touching 45°C that started a bush fire.

But a retired colonel — who had been posted at the dump for a number of years — laughed off the suggestion, saying he had seen several scorching summers, but never a forest fire in the district, which is not as arid as the western region of Rajasthan.

Bharatpur is one of the six of 32 districts in the state where drought has not been declared.    

A martyr’s village (Gujarat), April 30 
Gujarat’s worst drought has created its first martyr, Ditabai Okrabai Gamar of Sebalia.

Ditabai, a 30-year-old tribal, collapsed in front of his house on April 6. His family had had no food for two weeks. The post-mortem done on Ditabai by the local doctor suggested he had none in his stomach. Ditabai’s was the first suspected starvation death of this drought.

For his fellow tribals in Sebalia, 80 km north of Sabarkantha district headquarters Himatnagar, Ditabai is a martyr. The elders of Sebalia have decided to build a memorial complete with a stone bust of Ditabai on a small hillock next to his house where he was buried.

The memorial should be ready by the time Sonia Gandhi comes visiting on May 6. Built of stone, the two-foot memorial is painted white. Two artisans were drawing tribal motifs all around it. One of the artisans said sculptors in Ambaji, a nearby religious centre, have been asked to build a stone bust of Ditabai.

Kalabai Durabai Gamar, a 60-year-old village elder and member of the village committee, explained why they were putting up a memorial. “It is an ancient tribal custom. We honour those we think have laid down their lives. Ditabai’s death has made the government sit up. It has made them realise that there are villages like Sebalia where there is nothing to eat. Ditabai has made people like you come to this village,” he said.

Sebalia appeared to have made up its mind about honouring Ditabai immediately after his death. As part of a ritual reserved for martyrs, his body was not consigned to flames but buried.

Sonia’s proposed visit has given Ditabai’s family an unexpected bonus. A concrete road, 1 km long from the village roadhead right up to their house, has been sanctioned.

On Saturday, the taluka development officer came and made the announcement. The Congress president will drive to the village and walk up the new road to meet the martyr’s family.

Also expected to be driven here for an audience with Sonia is the family of Saibabai Bubadia and his daughter, the other unsung martyrs — suspected starvation victims — from Aanjni.

Villagers, of Sebalia and neighbouring areas, are contributing anything from Re 1 to Rs 10 for the memorial. On Saturday, after receiving weekly payment for relief work, they handed over donations to Kalabai Gamar who is managing the funds. Ditabai’s death, the post-mortem report released 10 days later said, was due to “advanced pulmonary tuberculosis”.

A key player in the drama that followed the death is the young doctor Gossain who performed the post-mortem. Initially reluctant to talk, Gossain said he started the post-mortem at 2.20 pm. By 3, the stomach was cut open and the doctor found no trace of food. At 3.20, a senior doctor arrived from a community health centre and took over the operation. Soon the body was stitched up.

Ditabai’s death could become a political issue during Sonia’s visit since Sebalia falls in Congress leader Amarsinh Chaudhary’s constituency. It is also one of the 10 villages in the block “adopted” by chief minister Keshubhai Patel for special care.

For the government, Ditabai’s memorial will be a constant and harsh reminder of this year’s drought. An ancient tribal custom will be a standing indictment of its efforts to pass off the death as not caused by starvation.    

New Delhi, April 30 
Armed with a US state department report that blamed Pakistan for harbouring terrorists, India today tilted the talks see-saw battle back in its favour and stuck to its conditions to resume dialogue.

The US report, made public by The New York Times, has for the first time identified South Asia as a crucial hub of international terrorism, accusing Pakistan and especially Afghanistan of providing safe haven and support to international terrorist groups.

However, the report stopped short of adding Pakistan to the terror black list. The US conceded that Islamabad’s record badly needs improvement, but added that “it is a friendly state that is trying to tackle the problem”.

The disclosure of the report comes close on the heels of an appeal by US under secretary of state Thomas Pickering to India to restart talks and a day after Pakistan’s junta leader, Pervez Musharraf, repeated his desire to meet Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee in a “neutral” West Asian country.

The two statements had raised eyebrows in New Delhi, which had been insisting that talks would be resumed only after “concrete evidence” of a cessation of cross-border terrorism.

Pickering is scheduled to visit the sub-continent next month and it was felt that he was testing the waters to make the resumption of talks the cornerstone of his tour.

However, buoyed by the state department report, Delhi slipped back into the post-Clinton visit high ground, questioning the sincerity of Musharraf’s offer made during an interview to CNN.

This afternoon, National security adviser Brajesh Mishra told reporters in Patiala that the question of a dialogue with Musharraf and his regime did not arise because he had gone on record questioning the Shimla Agreement.

Foreign ministry officials insisted that unless Pakistan agrees to talk on cross-border terrorism before Kashmir, there was no scope for a meeting ground.

In the same interview, the officials pointed out, Musharraf had hinted at possible involvement of Indian forces in the massacre of Sikhs in Anantnag during Clinton’s visit. The design, he suggested, was to impress upon Clinton the severity of terror strikes.

However, diplomats conceded that India will have to find a way to resume talks, either direct or through Track II, before Vajpayee pays a return visit to Washington in September.

In its 107-page report, the state department was severely critical of Pakistan, saying that while it has arrested and extradited several terrorists, it has refused to end support for groups that train terrorists in neighbouring Afghanistan and in Pakistan itself and has declined to close “certain Pakistani religious schools that serve as conduits for terrorism”.

It said there are also “credible reports”, that Pakistan continues to support militant groups like the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen, which had one of its leaders freed from an Indian prison in exchange for hostages taken in the Indian Airlines hijacking.

Informed of the state department report, Zamir Akram, the deputy chief of mission at Pakistan’s embassy in Washington, vigorously denied that his country was supporting or tolerating terrorism.

Washington, he asserted, had refused to present evidence to support such charges. “If they have evidence, they should share it with us,” Akram said.

“We are more of a target and victim of terrorism than the United States has even been. We need to jointly fight against terrorism. Charges like this simply get our backs up,” he added.    

Maximum: 33.5°C (-3)
Minimum: 22.3°C (-4)
Relative humidity:
Maximum: 93%,
Minimum: 60%
Partly cloudy sky. Possibility of development of thunderclouds towards afternoon or evening. Maximum temperature likely to be around 35° C
Sunset: 6.00 pm
Sunrise: 5.07 am

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