Court ruling sends leaders into pro-hartal
Basu follows Naidu up IT path
‘Doctor saab’ held in Salt Lake
Poll performance prompts Sonia emissary visit
Mamata keeps Cong guessing
Pankaj Roy shop set to lose licence
Muivah keen on talks resumption
Neepco obeys court order, restores power
MCC loots arms from villagers
Gun-toting rebels force Bhutan to shift institute

Calcutta, June 2 
Reacting to the Kerala High Court’s ban on forced hartals, politicians and trade unionists in Calcutta have claimed that they have “never forced it upon the people”.

Both right and left wing politicians and trade union organisations said, on Friday, that a hartal or a bandh was part of their fundamental and democratic right to protest.

Chief minister Jyoti Basu said: “The directive (of the Kerala high court) does not apply to Bengal because here we do not force anything on the people. We always depend on spontaneous popular response.”

According to Gorachand Dey, judge of Calcutta High Court, it is not mandatory for the people of Bengal to abide by the high court ruling in Kerala.

“If a person files a writ petition in the Calcutta High Court in this regard and the court issues an order similar to that of Kerala, then only the ruling will hold good for Bengal,” explained Justice Dey.

This apart, the ruling will only be applicable to Calcutta and elsewhere in Bengal if such an order is issued by the Supreme Court.

State Congress working president Priya Ranjan Das Munshi said in a democracy, political parties enjoy certain specific rights within the ambit of fundamental rights.

“Hartal and bandh are forms of lodging protest. How can it be unconstitutional?” demanded Das Munshi.

PCC vice-president Saugata Roy said if the high court proceeds to ban hartal altogether, it would go against the fundamental right of freedom of expression.

“Hartals cannot be forced. A total bandh is when people respond spontaneously. There are so many hartals which have been flops,” felt Roy.

State BJP spokesman Muzaffar Khan said people had “every right to exert their democratic right”. “But, we are not in favour of a forced hartal. If people participate spontaneously, we have nothing to say,” Khan opined.

Secretariat member of the CPM’s labour arm, Citu, Kali Ghosh, said that the communists never forced a hartal or bandh on the people. “We are strong believers of conscious participation of the people. We never force a hartal on any one. And the right to strike, right to organise and right to bargain are the three basic rights of the working class,” Ghosh said, adding that the bandh or the hartal have not been clearly defined in the law books.

Another prominent Leftist leader and Forward Bloc state secretary, Ashoke Ghosh, also said that the Left Front in West Bengal “never forced people” to take part in bandhs and hartals.

Secretary of the Congress’ labour wing, Intuc, Pramathesh Sen, said the trade union never prevented willing workers from attending a factory shift during a hartal.

“In support of a hartal, we can always resort to picketing in front of a factory gate. But we don’t forcibly prevent any worker to join in,” Sen said.

But Sen possibly hit the nail on the head while concluding that “nowadays people regard a hartal as just another holiday”.    

Calcutta, June 2 
What Andhra Pradesh did yesterday, West Bengal might do tomorrow.

The mandarins at Writers’ Buildings have finally decided to draw up an action plan to build up a comprehensive computer network in the state.

Responding to chief minister Jyoti Basu’s appeal, the Centre has agreed to set up an earth station in Salt Lake at a cost of Rs 8 crore. The communication network will be built up through the station. Software Technology Park of India will build the station.

It is Basu who has pushed the IT plan forward “to bring in speed and transparency in government activities”. At a recent meeting, the chief minister is said to have told his officers: “We have already wasted a lot of time. If Chandrababu can do it, why can’t we?”

The entire project, monitored by Webel, will be implemented in three phases.

The government-owned electronics body will engage experts and other agencies, including foreign companies, as and when required.

First, all government departments will be computerised and an information bank created. Then, the state secretariat and district headquarters will be `networked’. A separate network will connect Writers’ Buildings with all medical colleges and government hospitals.

The police headquarters at Lalbazar will also be linked to all thanas through computers.

The government will also set up a dedicated satellite-based communication system which connect remote places and remain operational during emergencies.

“We have agreed to provide the Union government with three acres of land in the city and Rs 1 crore. A suitable plot has been identified at Salt Lake which will soon be handed over to them,” said Amit Kiran Deb, principal secretary to the chief minister and in charge of the IT department.

Chief secretary Manish Gupta has also told all departmental secretaries to be “more active and effective” in implementing IT projects.

Gupta asked the department heads to depute an officer “not below the rank of a joint secretary” to function as IT officer for the concerned department.

The deputed officer will be given “extensive computer training”.    

Calcutta, June 2 
The elusive “doctor saab”, alleged kingpin in the fund-flow racket leading to the Northeast, has been arrested.

On Friday, the police picked up 35-year-old Ananda Kumar Jalan from his Salt Lake residence on charges of violating the Foreign Exchange Regulation Act, forging and cheating.

Jalan was tracked down three days after the hundi racket was busted, late on Tuesday night with the arrest of two youth in central Calcutta. Rs 15 lakh was recovered from a compartment of their scooter.

After interrogating Mohammad Amin and Mohammad Yusuf, the police had raided a house on Zakaria Street and rounded up three others on Wednesday. All five were booked under the Foreigners’ Act, implying that they had illegally entered the country.

The police said one of the arrested had provided them with the address of Jalan. He was later identified by the arrested youths as “the person who had been operating the hundi racket for the past five years”.

According to the police, Jalan has confessed during interrogation that he was operating the racket and had “contacts” in Mumbai. However, he denied having links with anyone “outside the country”.

Police said Jalan had earned the sobriquet “doctor saab” as he is an amateur homeopathic and ayurvedic practitioner. “He used to treat some of his accomplices with herbal and other such medicines,” a police officer said. “That is why they used to refer to him as doctor saab.”

The police, on the basis of the interrogation of the arrested youths, had said that huge sums of money had been coming into the city from Surat. This was being deposited in an account at the Zakaria Street branch of the State Bank of India. The money was subsequently withdrawn and handed over to “contacts” who would then ferry them to different destinations.

Intelligence officials had even said that some of this was being used to fund militants operating in the Northeast. However, the police are not willing to comment on this as “investigations are underway”.

The police, on Friday, said the addresses of “contacts” in Surat provided by the arrested youths were false.

“We have verified this with the Gujarat police and they have told us that none of the addresses exists,” deputy commissioner of police, detective department, Narayan Ghosh said.

Ghosh also said that the youths had assured him that they would produce school certificates and other documents to prove that they were Indian citizens.

“Till they do so, we will treat them as foreigners as they have been feeding us with a lot of false information about their antecedents,” added Ghosh.

Drive against free-trippers: Eastern railway officials conducted a drive against ticketless travellers at Sealdah on Friday. Officials said 319 cases were registered against free-trippers and Rs 26,101 was collected from the commuters as fines.

The drive will continue at other stations in the Sealdah south and north sections.    

Calcutta, June 2 
Buoyed by the party’s performance in the just-concluded municipal polls, Congress president Sonia Gandhi is keen on revamping the organisation in the state.

AICC general secretary in charge of West Bengal affairs Prava Rao arrives in Calcutta on Saturday to discuss the issue with the state leaders. She will meet state Congress functionaries at the PCC office to take stock of the post-poll scenario. The Congress has bagged 15 to the Left Front’s 31 and the Trinamul’s nine seats.

The meeting assumes significance following the AICC’s directive to key party leaders that they “must” attend the meeting.

Former PCC chief Somen Mitra however will be away campaigning at Panskura.

AICC leaders, when contacted in Delhi, said Rao will discuss “organisational matters” with the state leaders. She will also oversee the party’s campaign for Monday’s byelection to the Panskura Lok Sabha seat.

Congress working president Priya Ranjan Das Munshi, on Friday, demanded the party be revamped to take on the Left Front.

In a veiled attack on Khan Chowdhury, Das Munshi said: “The recent elections have proved that the Congress can afford to tackle the CPM on its own.”

In another development, the Congress, the Trinamul and the Left Front laid claims and counter-claims over their tally in the 22 “hung” municipalities.

Of them, Raghunathpur, Barasat, Taki and Beldanga are likely to go to the Left Front with Independents and SUCI councillors pledging support, while the remaining 18 are likely to be shared by the Congress and the Trinamul if the two parties can work out a deal.


Calcutta, June 2 
Trinamul Congress supremo Mamata Banerjee’s keenness to complete the pending railway projects in her home state and reluctance to destabilise the Vajpayee government have prompted her to reject the Congress’ plea to quit the National Democratic Alliance (NDA).

Both the AICC and some state Congress leaders have urged Mamata to part company with the BJP and return to the parent party in view of Trinamul’s disappointing show in the just-concluded municipal polls for 79 seats.

While the Trinamul leader has ruled out the possibility of quitting the NDA, she is still hopeful about the emergence of an anti-CPM front before next year’s Assembly polls.

“We have serious ideological differences with the BJP, but cannot ditch it since the party is our pre-poll ally. Besides, we are committed to implement the NDA agenda, which is different from the BJP’s,” Mamata has told close associates and sections of the Congress leadership in Calcutta.

Mamata is wary of doing a Jayalalitha as she fears that Trinamul’s withdrawal from the NDA might set off a chain reaction culminating in yet another “expensive mid-term poll”.

She fears her party will then be held responsible for the political crisis and lose credibility. “Where do we stand if the government falls?” is her query to Congress leaders who want her to pull out of the NDA at once.

The Union minister is also not sure what will happen to the unfinished railway projects in West Bengal if she decides to quit the NDA and the Cabinet.

Mamata is also desperate to stave off the CPM’s “organised attempts” to prevent the formation of a mahajot (grand alliance) opposed to it before the Assembly elections.

A section of state Congress leaders, she feels, is “hand-in-glove” with the CPM and supports its harping on “the danger of communalism” simply to stall the emergence of a mahajot.

Mamata, who is now engaged in a hectic campaign in support of party nominee Bikram Sarkar in the Panskura Lok Sabha by-election, has directed district Trinamul leaders to hold talks with leaders of other parties to prevent the CPM from capturing boards in the “hung” municipalities. And she intends to revive “mahajot” talks with PCC chief A.B.A. Ghani Khan Chowdhury after the Calcutta Municipal Corporation polls.    

Calcutta, June 2 
The state government is likely to cancel the liquor licence to the shop owned by the sheriff of Calcutta, Pankaj Roy.

State excise minister Dhiren Sen today said that a cheating case had been filed against Roy and the investigation was on. “The government will not hesitate in taking any unpleasant decision if the charges against Roy are proved,’’ added Sen.

Excise department officials said that no liquor licence was issued in the last 10 years. But Roy used his clout to influence the authorities and managed the licence.

Arun Mishra, commissioner of excise, said that a final decision on the matter would be taken after the inquiry.    

Kohima, June 2 
Imprisoned National Socialist Council of Nagalim (Isak-Muivah) general secretary Thuingaleng Muivah has given his consent to resumption of peace talks with the Centre, according to two Church leaders who met him in Bangkok recently.

Muivah, serving a jail sentence in Thailand for travelling on a fake passport, said his outfit would constitute a new team of representatives to resume the negotiations. The peace talks were scheduled to resume in February, but Muivah’s arrest a couple of weeks earlier stalled the process.

The Centre recently evolved a strategy to cajole NSCN(I-M) chairman Isak Chisi Swu into starting the negotiations as soon as possible.

Sources said the government’s move was prompted by Muivah’s reluctance to nominate representatives to carry on the peace talks till his sentence is over. However, the two Naga Church leaders who met the incarcerated militant leader on May 26 said the Centre’s apprehension was unfounded.

The Church leaders, who also met senior government officials in New Delhi before leaving for Thailand, said the NSCN(I-M) general secretary was willing to allow someone from the outfit to represent him at the fresh round of peace talks.

“Muivah wants peace talks with the Centre to continue and has endorsed the proposal to nominate someone as his representative,” said V.K. Nuh, one of the two Church leaders.

L. Suohi Mhasi accompanied Nuh to Bangkok. The duo represented the two major Baptist church organisations in Nagaland — the Council of Naga Baptist Churches and the Naga Baptist Churches’ Council.

“Muivah even suggested that we meet NSCN(I-M) chairman Isak Chisi Swu. The latter will also speak to the imprisoned Naga leader soon,” Mhasi said.

Asked what he and Nuh told Muivah other than request him to allow resumption of the peace talks, the Church leader said, “We told Muivah that he can have a say in the peace process even while in prison. One appeal by him to all underground activists will reduce the level of violence in Nagaland.”

Blaming both the NSCN(I-M) and the Centre for the slow progress of the peace talks, Nuh said a breakthrough could have been made long ago had both sides been more sincere.

“A major breakthrough could have been made within three years of the ceasefire coming into effect in Nagaland. Instead, even basic issues have not been resolved by both sides,” he said.    

Shillong, June 2 
The North Eastern Electric Power Corporation Limited today directed its three power stations to restore normal supply of electricity to all seven northeastern states.

“In compliance with the Gauhati High Court’s order, we have issued a directive to restore power supply with immediate effect,” a high-level source in Neepco told The Telegraph.

Admitting a public interest litigation, the High Court yesterday restrained the power corporation from regulating power supply to Assam, which had defaulted in payment of dues. Neepco began regulating power supply to all seven northeastern states from noon yesterday in a bid to force them to clear outstanding dues to the tune of Rs 933.61 crore.

“Our first priority is to keep all our power stations running,” the Neepco source said. “With the northeastern states making only partial payments, we are still not in a position to pay the Rs 70 crore we owe to agencies which supply gas,” he added.

P.K. Chatterjee, director (finance) of Neepco, said the power corporation required at least Rs 400 crore immediately to achieve peak efficiency. Neepco chairman-cum-managing director P. K. Kotoky corroborated Chatterjee’s statement and urged all state governments and electricity boards of the region to make an all-out effort to clear their outstanding dues immediately.

“Neepco can properly serve the people of the Northeast only if the states clear their dues,” he said. The Neepco Tribal Employees’ Welfare Association welcomed the power corporation’s initiative to recover outstanding dues from the northeastern states.

“If payments are not made on time, the corporation, which was set up for the development of the region’s power sector, will be unable to survive,” said a spokesperson for the association.

The employees’ panel also urged the state governments of the Northeast to clear their dues immediately in the interest of the region’s development.

Tripura clears dues: The Tripura government has paid Neepco Rs 10 crore in outstanding dues and plans to pay the remaining Rs 24 crore in instalments, reports our Agartala correspondent.    

Ranchi, June 2 
Armed extremists belonging to the banned Maoist Communist Centre looted at least a dozen licensed firearms from four villages under Silli block in Ranchi district last night.

Sources said nearly a week ago, MCC extremists had served a notice to the villagers residing at Lota, Godadih, Nagedih and Aaygarh villages to surrender their licensed firearms or face the consequences. When the villagers refused to obey the diktat, more than a hundred armed extremists raided these villages simultaneously in groups of four.

The sources said the rebels, who had definite information of the villagers holding licensed firearms, raided only the targeted houses before escaping into the jungles. The villagers alleged that though they had passed on the MCC threats to the police, no action had been taken.

Additional police reinforcements have been rushed to Silli and a combing operation launched to nab the extremists. However, no arrests have been made nor any arms recovered by the police.

The Silli raid by the MCC came only days after the extremists torched a godown stacked with kendu leaves at Bundu in Ranchi district earlier this week after the godown owner refused to pay protection money to the outfit.

Medicines seized: Government Railway Police today seized a huge quantity of life-saving drugs from Patna railway station. A source said 15 boxes of unclaimed medicines were seized from the Patna-bound Rajdhani Express, adds UNI.    

Guwahati, June 2 
The Bhutanese government has shifted the Royal Bhutan Polytechnic from Deothang to Kharbandi due to the presence of Ulfa and Bodo militants in the area.

After being forced to vacate its camps in Bangladesh a few years back, the Ulfa set up bases in Bhutanese territory. The outfit’s general headquarters is in Deothang, not very far from the Royal Bhutan Polytechnic.

In its May 20-26 issue, Bhutan’s national newspaper Kuensel quoted King Jigme Singye Wangchuk as saying that the decision to “relocate” the Royal Bhutan Polytechnic had been taken “because of the seriousness of the situation and the possibility of the students and staff getting kidnapped by the militants”.

Though the decision to shift the institution was taken last year, the process was completed only last month, Kuensel reported. However, sources said the laboratories in the polytechnic were yet to be shifted to Kharbandi.

Students of the polytechnic became jittery after armed Ulfa rebels were frequently seen moving about in Deothang, intelligence sources said.

Dao Panjo, counsellor in the Bhutanese embassy in New Delhi, told The Telegraph over phone that the new location of the polytechnic was in Phuentsholing dzongkhag (district), bordering West Bengal. He said Deothang in Samdrup Jongkhar dzongkhag (district) was across Lower Assam’s Nalbari district.

Sources in the embassy said wings 11 and 12 of the Royal Bhutan Army had been deployed at the polytechnic complex at Deothang. The number of Army personnel deployed in the dzongkhags affected by the presence of the rebels have been increased “because of the growing security threat to the country”, they said.

Kuensel quoted the Bhutanese monarch as saying that militants entered Bhutan between 1990 and 1992, but the government came to know of the existence of camps only in 1996.

The newspaper also quoted home minister Lyonpo Thinlay Gyamtsho as saying the militants had been repeatedly asked to leave. “But it appears that they intend to stay until they fulfil their objective of independence of Assam,” he said.    


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