Jobless teacher meets death before justice
Grenades miss Srinagar secretariat
Party drops bill-bomb on jetset Gowda
CPM denies Mamata project credit
Pilot gives voice to dissent
Patel bid to keep Dal together
Bodyguards for big cats on poaching hitlist

 
 
JOBLESS TEACHER MEETS DEATH BEFORE JUSTICE 
 
 
FROM TAPAS CHAKRABORTY
 
Patna, May 22 
Unsung and unwanted, Saroj Kumari died along with her dreams yesterday.

Out of a job since 1997, the 35-year-old handicapped schoolteacher tried to kill herself by swallowing poison in front of the chief minister’s residence on Saturday. For 24 hours, she lay on her hospital bed moaning in misery: her cries were greeted with derisive laughter, her pain with disdain.

Politicians, who are otherwise quick to clutch onto anything that makes good copy, were too busy to take up the woman’s case. No street marches demanding a probe, no punching of fists to protest against the treatment meted out to a woman whose only fault was asking for justice that the people in power had promised her.

Unconcerned about Saroj’s plight, the bulk of the leaders scampered off to Raghopur: the ruling party bosses to campaign for Rabri Devi, who’s asking for votes on the social justice premise; and “messiahs” of the downtrodden Ramvilas Paswan and Sushil Modi to oppose the chief minister.

A Rashtriya Janata Dal MP voiced the collective indifference. Asked for his reaction to the woman’s death, he simply shrugged and said: “You people will know it better. Why ask?” When pointed to the pictures of the dead woman splashed on the local dailies, the Rajya Sabha member said: “Oh, that poor woman from Lohardaga.”

The sole voice of protest came from the CPI, which took up the issue at an all-party meet at the state secretariat. “The Bihar government has ceased to be democratic. It has built an invisible barrier between the common people and the ministers, driving the poor to desperation.”

Saroj’s death reflects the collapse of the administrative system. As she lay writhing in agony on her hospital bed, there was no medical help at hand. No medicine was given. Some patients said that she even offered money to a nurse to buy medicine. But she was curtly told: “Where is the time to go out now?”

With the doctors on strike, she was being attended to by some housestaff who kept on repeating that “she was out of danger”, when in reality she had slipped into a coma. Saroj died around 12.30 in the afternoon yesterday, but it was not until 8 pm that the hospital learnt she was no more.

By her lifeless body lay the hospital handicapped certificate and her matriculation degree, which, she thought, would help her get a job.

A teacher at Lohardaga’s Charawaha Vidyalaya — Laloo Yadav’s much-touted project to provide primary education to all — Saroj found herself without salary after the schools virtually stopped functioning in 1997. All she wanted from the government was a job in any of the other Charawaha schools.

After running from pillar to post in the district offices, Saroj came to Patna in the hope that Rabri — a woman she respected — would help her. But she was repeatedly turned away by the chief minister’s security guards.

Saroj died with her right hand placed on her head. “Even in her death, there is a defiance which challenged the system instead of meekly surrendering to it. In killing herself, she has registered a protest against politicians who make false promises,” said Sutapa Sikdar, one of the few women activists who turned up at the hospital.    


 
 
GRENADES MISS SRINAGAR SECRETARIAT 
 
 
FROM MUKHTAR AHMAD
 
Srinagar, May 22 
Militants this afternoon rained rifle grenades on the heavily-guarded civil secretariat building at the heart of the capital.

Two persons, including a policeman, were injured when militants fired as many as 17 rifle grenades from a nearby locality at the secretariat building. The grenades, however, missed the target and fell in the Suthrashahi residential locality. The explosions triggered panic among the employees of the secretariat, who fled their offices. The residents of the Suthrashahi locality ran for cover and raised hue and cry.

Sources said two rifle grenades fell inside the headquarters of the fire services department at Batmaloo in the vicinity of the secretariat building.

One of the grenades exploded without causing any damage. The bomb disposal squad had to be rushed in to defuse the other.

This is the first attack this year on the building housing the offices of chief minister Farooq Abdullah, his ministers and top state officials.

The chief minister had just left his office when the grenades started raining. Last year the militants had attacked the secretariat thrice, inflicting several casualties. This year however, extraordinary security is in place to protect the seat of the Jammu and Kashmir government in Srinagar, with nearly 3,000 paramilitary personnel on duty.

As the news broke out senior police and security officers moved in with reinforcements and cordoned off the area. Search operations have begun to trace the culprits involved.

The All Party Hurriyat Conference has called a two-day strike, beginning Wednesday, against alleged atrocities. Senior Hurriyat leaders will also go on a 36-hour hunger-strike from Wednesday to attract international attention towards the “continued reign of terror in the Farooq Abdullah government”.

Addressing a press conference at the Hurriyat headquarters today, the chairman of the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) said that on one side the government of India is generating a hype of a dialogue with separatist leaders, but on the other hand the administration “has unleashed a reign of terror in Kashmir, killing civilians, political activists and former militants in custody”.

He alleged that by killing the Kashmiris the administration was trying to silence and crush the will of the locals. “There is so much panic in the valley that no one knows if he would return alive after leaving his home in the morning.”    


 
 
PARTY DROPS BILL-BOMB ON JETSET GOWDA 
 
 
FROM KAY BENEDICT
 
New Delhi, May 22 
Civil aviation minister and Janata Dal (United) president Sharad Yadav has ditched his former mentor H.D. Deve Gowda.

Yadav has refused to foot Gowda’s air-travel bill. The ministry of defence has asked Gowda to cough up Rs 54.61 lakh for using the VIP IAF aircraft for non-official purposes while he was Prime Minister.

Though Gowda insists that the aircraft was used for party work, Yadav — who headed the undivided Janata Dal when Gowda was Prime Minister in the United Front government — says it was used for numerous private visits.

Now times have changed. While Gowda is now struggling for political space, Yadav is enjoying his stint as civil aviation minister and the head of the Dal.

When the bill came, the former Prime Minister asked the government to forward it to Yadav. He claimed that even the non-official uses of the aircraft were for party purposes and at the behest of Yadav. Therefore, it was Yadav who should pay.

When asked if the Dal would foot Gowda’s bill, JD(U) national secretary Balasubramaniam said: “Nothing doing.”

He had discussed the matter with Yadav, Balasubramaniam said. And his party chief had told him that the aircraft was not used for party work but for Gowda’s personal work.

But a close aide of Gowda dismissed Balasubramaniam’s comment. He also added a spin to the argument. “A Prime Minister is a Prime Minister,” he said. “There is nothing called a private visit.”

Apart from Gowda, three former Premiers — Rajiv Gandhi, Chandra Shekhar and P.V. Narasimha Rao — are also major defaulters.

While the Congress paid Rs 1.86 crore to settle the bill for Rajiv Gandhi, it is yet to clear Rao’s amount.

The Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) had last month given its approval for initiating legal action against the three former Prime Ministers and notices are likely to be served on them soon.

According to defence ministry figures, Rao owes Rs 5.52 crore, while Chandra Shekhar has to pay Rs 5.91 crore. The Congress had earlier agreed to pay Rao’s dues, but later backed out.

On his part, Chandra Shekhar has questioned the very logic of holding political parties responsible for the payments of the unofficial trips undertaken by the former Prime Ministers.

Sources said since the amount involved is too high, the three may seek legal remedy and the government may ultimately have to write off the dues.    


 
 
CPM DENIES MAMATA PROJECT CREDIT 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Siliguri, May 22 
A day after railway minister Mamata Banerjee tried to woo north Bengal by offering a set of new projects, state municipal affairs’ minister Ashoke Bhattacharya criticised her for taking “undue credit for the railway schemes which had been cleared by previous governments after a sustained campaign by the Left Front”.

Bhattacharya, the CPM MLA from Siliguri, said: “Ms Banerjee spoke about the conversion of metre gauge lines to broad gauge, construction of double lines, modernisation of the toy train and renovation of the old toy train coaches, which were all sanctioned by her predecessors Ram Vilas Paswan and Nitish Kumar”.

He said the only new project she mentioned was the expansion of the Dalkhola-Kishengunj line. Giving photocopies of his correspondence with Paswan, Nitish Kumar and Banerjee over the past three years, Bhattacharya said: “What the region has got is the outcome of our campaign.”

Yesterday, Banerjee stopped her speech half way to allow Bhattacharya, who came late to the ceremony, to flag off the first diesel-run toy train and to inaugurate conversion of the Siliguri-NewJalpaiguri-Bongaigaon line into broad gauge. She allowed Bhattacharya to address the gathering before her so that she could reply to his speech. Bhattacharya refrained from making any controversial comments, though he asked the Centre to take up more new projects.    


 
 
PILOT GIVES VOICE TO DISSENT 
 
 
FROM RASHEED KIDWAI
 
New Delhi, May 22 
The disquiet in the Congress has started taking shape with Rajesh Pilot raising the issue of inner-party democracy and calling for a change in the make-up of the party structure.

Backing Pilot is Jitendra Prasada, engaged in a no-holds-barred battle for supremacy with Uttar Pradesh Congress chief Salman Khurshid. Yesterday, Pilot and Prasada had together addressed a meeting of a 20,000-strong crowd in Jhansi. However, the duo did not hit out against the leadership at the meeting as AICC nominee Motilal Vora was present as “Sonia’s observer”.

Pilot today told The Telegraph that he would be touring the country to propagate the five-point Rajiv Gandhi mantra spelt out at the Bombay Congress centenary meeting in 1985. The mantra was a call to:

Weed out power-brokers from the party;

Debar corrupt and criminals from entering into the organisation;

Restore inner-party democracy;

Broaden the Congress’ social base and not let the organisation become a ladder to personal power and position;

Strive for value-based politics.

By raising the bogey of the Rajiv legacy, Pilot is trying to convince the party rank and file that the Congress under Sonia has deviated from the path envisaged by her husband. While a majority of CWC members like Madhavrao Scindia, Pranab Mukherjee and Arjun Singh are with Sonia, Pilot’s gameplan is based upon establishing himself as a principal dissident leader and becoming a rallying force for those unhappy with Sonia’s style of functioning.

Though Pilot is tight-lipped on his next move, he is preparing to take on the AICC chief in the organisational polls slated later this year. Traditionally, the AICC chief is elected unanimously, but Sitaram Kesri had faced both Sharad Pawar and Rajesh Pilot as contenders in 1997.

Pilot is counting on support from the West Bengal party unit where an open rebellion is brewing against Sonia. In Orissa too, the state unit is vertically divided. In Bihar a section of the party is unhappy with the power-share arrangement with Laloo.

However, the actual battle for supremacy would be in Uttar Pradesh that sends about one-sixth of the AICC and PCC members.    


 
 
PATEL BID TO KEEP DAL TOGETHER 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Bangalore, May 22 
Former Karnataka chief minister J.H. Patel has offered to broker peace between warring factions of Janata Dal (United) led by Union ministers Sharad Yadav and Ram Vilas Pa-swan, to keep the party together.

Patel, who has just recovered from a serious ailment, said coalition governments had come to stay and Dal (U) as a regional force had to play an important role by remaining united.

“We have split often enough and there is nothing more to split. Paswan met me in Delhi and said he was not happy with what was going on in the party. I have requested both Paswan and Yadav to come to Bangalore to sort out their differences as Delhi is not a very healthy place,” he said.

Patel sometime ago had said he had been asked to take over as Dal (U) president, but he had declined the offer due to poor health.

He ridiculed the move of the four former Prime Ministers to revive the third front, saying that in the absence of a “new vision”, people were unlikely to accept it. He added: “The reality is that regional parties are becoming stronger and we are entering a new phase of order within disorder.”    


 
 
BODYGUARDS FOR BIG CATS ON POACHING HITLIST 
 
 
FROM DIPTOSH MAJUMDAR
 
 
As public sector units are passed on to the private sector, Central Industrial Security Force jawans are being left with little to do. Some are being used to beef up security at airports. The ministry of forests and environment has now convinced the government that many more can be re-trained to guard tiger habitats.

In the last six months, a large number of leopards and tigers have been slain by poachers. The Supreme Court has also taken strong exception to the growing incidence of poaching in tiger reserves.

In a judgment on April 20, the court spoke out against the “distressing state of affairs insofar as depletion of the tiger population in the country is concerned”.

It urged the union ministry of environment and forests, and especially Project Tiger authorities, to evolve a joint strategy to protect the tiger from further depletion.

Project Tiger authorities, who have seldom admitted that poaching goes on in tiger reserves, are alarmed after the unearthing of at least 300 leopard skins and about 10 tiger skins in the last three months, largely in Uttar Pradesh. In Bengal, combing operations in and around Sunderbans have yielded eight tiger skins in the past six months.

To discuss the issue, all chief secretaries of states having a tiger population are being summoned for an urgent meeting in Delhi on Wednesday. They will be asked to release money for tiger conservation and fill up vacancies for posts of forest rangers without delay.

The ministry has found sympathy in the Planning Commission. The planners have agreed in principle that CISF jawans, who are receiving wages without having to do much, can be redeployed in all tiger habitats in the country.

The government has formed a National Coordination Committee to check poaching. Members include officials from Customs, Directorate of Revenue Intelligence, Indo-Tibetan Border Police, Border Security Force, Central Reserve Police Force, Coast Guard and police establishments of states.

Another special coordination committee has been formed to strengthen laws and combat the menace. The secretary of the ministry of environment and forests will chair this committee. Other members include the CBI director and representatives of the Central Board of Excise and Customs. The home ministry is also being involved. A separate cell is being formed to liaise between the environment and the home ministries.

Laws, too, are being strengthened. Minimum jail term is being raised from one year to two.

The government wants to absorb idle CISF jawans into the Special Protection Force being conceived by Project Tiger authorities, who are very worried about developments in the Sunderbans.

The tigers also appear to be taking revenge. In the past three months, eight men have been mauled by tigers in and around the Sunderbans. Not all of them are honey collectors who go into the forests daily during April-May. Quite a few are suspected to be poachers.    

 

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