Missile attack on London spy hub
After the rain, dam deluge
Blanket EC power over govt staff, police
Delhi award for showman Naidu
Stranded treasure train
Calcutta weather

London, Sept. 21: 
It was just as well I switched from BBC Radio 4, where the programme was less than gripping, to a local news station, News Direct. It was about midnight.

Britain’s spy headquarters, MI6, made famous by James Bond, was hit by a missile believed to have been fired from a rocket launcher in a replay of a scene from the latest 007 blockbuster, The World is not Enough.

The projectile struck the eighth floor of the building, causing slight damage but no injuries. Sources said it was a shoulder-launched missile fired from between 200 and 500 metres.

Police said the attack may have been mounted by Irish guerrillas opposed to the peace process in Northern Ireland.

The futuristic building of Military Intelligence Section 6 in central London featured in The World is not Enough, in which it explodes in the opening scene.

“It was an audacious attack in a busy part of London and we will be looking to hunt down whoever was responsible,” said Alan fry, head of the anti-terrorist branch of the police.

The bulletin on News Direct said Vauxhall Bridge, which I was just about to cross on the way way to pick up my son, was being sealed off because of the blast.

The signs of a terrorist attack were quickly evident — flashing blue lights on speeding police cars, tapes strung across streets as the areas were cordoned off, and the beginnings of traffic gridlock on Vauxhall and Lambeth Bridges which connect South London with the West End.

Police blocked off an area of 500 metres from the building. Special teams in dark blue boiler suits carried out a search, sifting through dustbins, to try and establish the precise point from where the missile was fired.

An eyewitness, Andrew Preece, said later: “I saw a large flash coming from the top of the building which was followed by a large bang.”

“I was shaking. My car was shaking,” said a witness who was passing by the scene when the explosion took place.

The green and sandstone structure stands on the south side of Vauxhall Bridge less than a mile from Parliament. It is from this striking but unattractive modern-day fortress, with its mass of aerials and a secret underground city, that Britain wages war on foreign terrorists in real life. More famously, in reel life, Bond... James Bond, pays his infrequent visits here at the bidding of ‘M’.

Dawn broke over the Thames to find an army of TV cameras broadcasting live from the north side of the Thames. The damage to the building may be minor but the psychological blow to the security services has been grievous.

If the terrorists — and it was being assumed they belonged to the dissident Irish group Real IRA — could hit at those whose job it is to fight terrorism, the enemies of the state could then strike at anyone with impunity.

If the attack is confirmed as the work of this group, which has weapons smuggled from Croatia, it will raise fears of further bombings.

Mike Yardley, a terrorism expert, pointed out that no coded warning of the kind the IRA often gives before a blast had been received. “This was an attack late at night and it would seem it was an attack designed not to create casualties. It was an attack for effect,” he said.

Life in the past couple of weeks in London has been anything but normal because of the petrol crisis. Today, Vauxhall station, both overground and underground, was closed and trains did not run into Waterloo. The Eurostar service, which goes from Waterloo to Paris through the Channel tunnel, was also suspended. Several streets were closed, intensifying traffic chaos.

Even Queen Elizabeth was late for an official engagement.

In the movie, after the explosion in the building, Bond blasts his way out through a window in a speedboat for a thrilling chase on the Thames.

Last night’s incident wasn’t quite as exciting, but it demonstrated that even one of the world’s most protected places is not safe enough.    

Calcutta, Sept. 21: 
A fresh flood alert has been issued in six south Bengal districts following fears of inundation by water discharged from overflowing dams and barrages.

At least 60 people have died and 600,000 affected in the floods.

The administration has started evacuating people from 30 police station areas in Burdwan, Birbhum, Murshidabad, Nadia, Hooghly and Howrah.

Fresh areas in Howrah, Hooghly and Nadia were flooded in the past 24 hours. The inclement weather has prevented the army from carrying out relief and rescue operations.

Only one army helicopter from Panagarh could drop relief material in Murshidabad district this afternoon.

The six districts continue to be cut off from the rest of the state. Telephone links have collapsed. All trains bound for north Bengal and Assam have been cancelled with little hope of services being restored before next week. (See Page 6)

Chief minister Jyoti Basu held a meeting with his deputy Buddhadev Bhattacharya, relief and irrigation ministers, chief secretary and other senior officials. Senior armymen from Fort William met the chief secretary.

“We have not been able to rescue most of the flood victims or provide relief to them. We have enough stock of food and other essentials, but cannot despatch them due to bad weather and communication problems,” Basu said.

Sixty truckloads of relief material were stuck on the highway, prompting the administration to divert them towards Krishnagar in Nadia. Nineteen buses carrying passengers to north Bengal have also not reached their destinations.

Darjeeling Mail, which left Calcutta on Wednesday, had to be diverted and is undertaking a 700-km detour to reach destination New Jalpaiguri.

Water levels in most rivers, including the Ajoy, Mayurakshi and Damodar, have crossed the danger-mark. Many villages in Burdwan district have been washed away as the Mayurakshi broke through the embankment at 10 places.

The Bhagirathi has washed away banks at five places in Katwa. Large areas in Birbhum were flooded by a rampaging Ajoy.

There has been a record release of water from Tilpara barrage, Massanjore dam and the DVC. “About 2.6 lakh cusecs of water has been released from Tilpara barrage, which will affect 10 to 15 blocks in Murshidabad, Burdwan and Nadia,” said Ganesh Mondal, minister of state for irrigation.    

Sept. 21: 
Overruling objections from most states, the Centre has decided to give the Election Commission complete control, including disciplinary powers, over government employees and police force on deputation for poll duty.

The commission will have the power to suspend “any officer, official or police personnel for insubordination or derelection of duty”.

The decision, announced before the Supreme Court by the government, brought to an end a tussle that has been dragging on between the Centre and the commission since the reign of T.N. Seshan as the chief election monitor.

But it will open a fresh flank in the war of words between the Centre and states like West Bengal which had opposed the proposal. Mamata Banerjee and the rest of the Opposition in Bengal had been alleging that poll malpractices with the connivance of government-controlled employees have been instrumental in the Left Front’s unbroken string of victories.

The Bengal government had opposed “one clause” in the decision that allows the Centre to “advise” all states to abide by the rule that commission would have total control over government employees.

The issue of “obeying” the Centre’s advice was not clarified the court which said that “it would be up to the states to heed the advice”.

Naranarayan Gooptu, state advocate-general, said in Calcutta that he had opposed the move on behalf of the Bengal government. “As the state government is the appointing authority of its employees, the commission should not have the right to take any disciplinary action against them,” he said.

The government told the Supreme Court that five states have endorsed the agreement. They are Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Tripura and Mizoram.    

New Delhi, Sept. 21: 
Performer N. Chandrababu Naidu has got what he wanted with his show of solidarity among states unhappy with the Eleventh Finance Commission recommendations.

The commission has created history by suggesting a special fund for the so-called performing states long after the Cabinet endorsed its main report.

Sources close to the commission said the fund would have a corpus of Rs 5,000 crore. Naidu’s Andhra Pradesh will obviously be one of the beneficiaries along with Gujarat, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Karnataka and Goa.

Angry at what he thought to be injustice to “performing” states in the commission’s award of revenue-gap grants to financially-weak states, Naidu had convened a meeting of fellow-traveller chief ministers in Delhi to the displeasure of his ally BJP and Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee.

The commission, headed by A.M. Khusro, has gone beyond its terms of reference in recommending this fund. Official sources said no other finance commission has taken such a U-turn under political pressure.

The sources said Khusro must have been told by the Prime Minister to try and redress Naidu’s grievance. The Telugu Desam sustains the government at the Centre with 29 MPs and Naidu has so far succeeded in getting what he wants from Vajpayee using this leverage.

Since a fund could not be created only for Andhra, the other states also stand to benefit. Andhra gains even though it is not among the first-rung performers.

The commission can make recommendations on its own, going beyond its terms of reference. Usually, this is done in the main report and not after it is submitted.

It has been able to do it though, since it was still working on a supplementary report in response to an additional term of reference from the President. The task was to devise a formula to link the release of revenue-gap grants to monitorable fiscal performance.

The sources said Khusro met with resistence within the commission in making the recommendation. Amaresh Bagchi, the public finance expert, protested and submitted a dissenting note in the supplementary report.

It is, however, possible that the commission was trying to make up for the lapses in the main report. The criticism against the main report was that while calculating the revenue-gap grant, the commission went by data supplied by the states instead of working out the figures on its own.

As a result, some states night have been awarded grants higher than their deserved share. This is a criticism the commission found difficult to answer.

It had recommended a revenue-gap grant of Rs 35,000 crore to 15 states, including West Bengal, for five years.

But the remedy — a Rs 5,000-crore special fund — is seen by experts as worse than the disease, given the political connotations.    

Calcutta, Sept. 21: 
Less than 250 km from here, in a railway coach Rs 32 crore in cash has been lying in iron chests for three days now.

What’s so much money doing in a coach? No cash for getting the answer right. This is one of the three compartments of 3141 Up Teesta-Torsa Express derailed and marooned in flood water at Swadinpur in Birbhum district.

Why isn’t someone taking them away? None for getting this one right, either. They can’t because the coach is three feet in flood water. A group of heavily-armed security guards is keeping vigil.

Three compartments of the Teesta-Torsa Express could not be salvaged during Tuesday’s rescue operation when all the 1,300 passengers were moved out of the train. All the other coaches were pulled away by another engine.

One of the three is a sealed compartment (meant to carry parcels) in which the cash was being taken from the main Calcutta office of Allahabad Bank to the State Bank of India’s Jalpaiguri branch.

The money was being sent for distribution among banks in north Bengal as government payments to employees and contractors before the Pujas. The cash was booked in the name of the manager of SBI’s Jalpaiguri branch.

The cash is in the first coach after the engine, which, too, is stuck. The 10 guards, with automatic weapons in their laps, are huddled inside the damp compartment next to the cash-coach. They haven’t had any relief in these past few days and have had little to eat and drink.

After news of the rescue reached Allahabad Bank on Wednesday, K.K. Sharma, assistant manager, contacted railway officials and sought their help in getting the cash trunks out.

“They (railways) told me that until the flood waters receded, there was no way the money could be taken out. We then informed the Reserve Bank and the state police authorities about it,” Sharma said.

An Eastern Railway spokesman said the RBI had also got in touch with them with a request to protect the money.

The inspector-general of railway police, Rajat Majumdar, said local police and Government Railway Police are also maintaining vigil from boats.

“The entire area is inundated. The police are carrying food and drinking water to the security guards in the compartment. Arrangements have been made to light up the area,” Majumdar said.

The railways today tried in vain to salvage the engine. From Rampurhat a railway crane had started for Swadinpur but it had to return as the tracks were under flood water.

“We are helpless. We can do nothing to salvage the cash trunks until the water level drops,” a senior railway official said.    



Maximum:27.5°C (-5l)
Minimum: 25.5°C (-1)


11 mm

Relative humidity

Minimum: 89%


Possibility of light rain in some parts of Calcutta and its suburbs    

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