Pilgrim town in grip of terror writ
Hands-tied BJP fights shy of Art. 356
Bureaucrats make a beeline for Jharkhand
Cong warhorse rears up in revolt
Consumer courts face fire for justice delay

 
 
PILGRIM TOWN IN GRIP OF TERROR WRIT 
 
 
FROM AMIT UKIL
 
Jayrambati, Sept. 22: 
Few devotees of Ma Sarada dare to visit her birthplace these days. Instead, they are dialling Matri Mandir head Swami Amayananda every day to “ask about the situation”.

“I tell them that nothing is happening now but I can’t give them complete assurance,” he said.

In deserted Jayrambati, not many will be able to give such an assurance. Least of all the 25 employees of Model Farm, who, like every year over the past two decades, had been looking forward to this week for taking home their Puja advance of Rs 500.

This year, all of them are under pressure to “contribute” the entire amount to local CPM bosses.

Farm manager Tapan Das said the CPM cadre swooped down on the staff almost immediately after the money was distributed on Monday. “From what I gather, they have never been asked to give up the amount before,” Das said.

CPM legislator Gouri Pada Dutta, who has won from Kotalpur thrice, denied that such demands have been made. “They may have been asked to contribute, but not forced,” he said.

The Model Farm employees are not the only weak and the meek who have inherited the back-breaking burden of feeding the mighty party.

Villagers are coming to Jayrambati every day from hamlets like Mohsinapur and Asthal with reports of being coerced to supply food to the CPM workers housed in camps pitched on “captured” Trinamul territory.

“Women and the aged are being asked to provide rice, fish, oil and vegetables to these workers by rotation,” said Jiten Ghosh of Mohsinapur. A swami at the Matri Mandir, too, spoke about extortion threats to the villagers.

These CPM workers set up the armed camps in homes deserted by Trinamul supporters following the September 6 attack. Over 1,500 on-the-run Trinamul workers had taken shelter inside Matri Mandir that day. They later went into hiding at various schools and other places.

Notwithstanding chief minister Jyoti Basu’s assurance, based on “inputs” from local leaders, that law and order was normal, undercurrents of tension are running high in Jayrambati. “And the tension will continue as long as these camps remain,” said Mohan Bose, a retired teacher.

Swami Sibarupananda, founder and head of the Ramakrishna Sarada Math and Mission, agreed that the camps are preventing the return to normality.

“Markets, shops and schools may have reopened after being closed for a week, but the smiles have not returned yet,” he said.

The Trinamul men are afraid of going back to their homes. “We are scared. The officer in charge of Kotalpur police station is offering to escort us back, but what will happen after he and his force leave? They will cut us to pieces,” said Shekhar Basu Roy, anchal pradhan of Gopinathpur gram panchayat.

Dutta, however, scoffed at allegations that the CPM was sparking the tension. “For 22 of the 24 years of Front rule, this area has been peaceful. The entry of the Trinamul has led to a series of conflicts started by them. After the panchayat polls, it was they who first attacked a peaceful meeting in June 1998. Our party has issued a directive not to resort to violence. But for how long can you offer the other cheek?”

The dispute is over the three gram panchayats of Gopinathpur, Lego and Sihar. After the local body polls in May 1998, these were the only panchayats in the entire Kotalpur block that the CPM could not capture.

“They are now desperate to regain control before the Assembly elections,” said Basu Roy.    


 
 
HANDS-TIED BJP FIGHTS SHY OF ART. 356 
 
 
FROM RADHIKARAMASESHAN
 
New Delhi, Sept. 22: 
On the eve of the NDA meeting, expected to discuss the West Bengal issue in detail and make appropriate anti-CPM noises, the BJP itself seems more or less reconciled to the futility of considering the option of Central rule or declaring the violence-prone areas “disturbed”.

A senior BJP general secretary today said: “Let’s face it. It is a political battle and the verbal fire will be fired from both sides until the election.” He went on to say that unless the Congress supported the clamping of Article 356, it was impossible to get the move ratified by Parliament with the NDA not having the numbers in the Rajya Sabha.

“As for Article 355, we need the state’s cooperation to declare the areas in question as disturbed, and there is no way the Leftists are going to give it,” the general secretary added.

The BJP saw the ongoing Mamata Banerjee-Jyoti Basu war of attrition as a “way of keeping their cadre engaged till the elections”.

Sources, however, claimed the battle had achieved two things — “taming” the CPM, and “checking the violence”.

Elaborating on the “achievements”, the sources said: “Definitely the Centre’s intervention has made the Marxists nervous. So far they were used to getting their own way in West Bengal. But now there is hope of a real challenge. Secondly, after the NDA team’s visit, there has been no violence in the affected areas. We have managed to rein in their goons.”

Expressing “surprise” at the CPM move to prescribe a “code of conduct” for the press in West Bengal, BJP spokesman Venkaiah Naidu said: “These comradely curbs on press freedom are intended to suppress the truth from coming out because the Marxists are afraid of losing. They don’t want the press to have free movement. It is part of their fascist thinking.”

Naidu also announced that the BJP national executive, which will be held here on October 1, is expected to chalk out an action plan for the Assembly elections, due next year in West Bengal, Assam, Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Uttar Pradesh.

The executive, he said, would also devise programmes to follow up the Nagpur “message” of the BJP chief, Bangaru Laxman, specially the “pro-minority” component.

But even with more than a week to go for the national executive, the Tamil Nadu BJP has got down to brass tacks by organising zonal-level workers’ conventions.

“The conventions are meant to assess our strength,” said sources, adding that the BJP allies — DMK, PMK and MDMK — have also started organising similar conferences.

The exercise is meant to prepare the ground for the long process of seat-sharing, which BJP sources admitted, may prove more problematic for the DMK — the fulcrum of the Tamil Nadu coalition — this time than in 1996.

In the last Assembly elections, the DMK had to share seats with just one party, the Tamil Maanila Congress, and it bagged the lion’s share enabling it to form a government on its own. While this is what the DMK is bargaining for, again, BJP sources said it may not be easy since all the allies would expect a “sizeable” number of seats.

“Although the BJP had only two legislators in the last Assembly, our strength has grown by leaps and bounds since then. We have four MPs and naturally we will expect the Lok Sabha polls to be taken as a criterion as well,” said the sources.    


 
 
BUREAUCRATS MAKE A BEELINE FOR JHARKHAND 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Patna, Sept. 22: 
After politicians and industrialists, Bihar bureaucrats are queuing up to board the Jharkhand ‘dreamboat’.

The scramble among IAS and IPS officers for a transfer to the new state began last week when the Bihar government issued a circular directing them to send in their options.

Today, 30 IAS officers led by the commissioner of Tirhut zone, G.L. Meena, requested the chief secretary to transfer them to the new state as they belonged to the SC/ST group. Among IPS officers who signed the petition was Rajbala Verma.

At a meeting in New Delhi yesterday, the U.C. Agarwal Committee — set up to evolve a general formula and implement cadre division in the new states — decided to postpone finalising the names of bureaucrats who would be transferred. But there is a feeling of restlessness among IAS and IPS officers.

Over 95 per cent of IAS officers, who belong to the 1990 cadre and onwards, have said they prefer Jharkhand. Many 1970 and 1980 batch officers have also submitted written options to the state secretariat. Of the 131 posts of IAS officers sanctioned for the new state, 161 have opted for transfer.

“It is a puzzling situation,” said state home secretary U.N. Panjiyar, who is coordinating with the Agarwal Committee. He said of the remaining 262 IAS officers in the state, only 62 have decided to stay back. The Agarwal Committee’s guidelines for cadre-selection for the new state include conditions like permanent residence in Jharkhand and sensitivity to tribal welfare projects.

And though the state government’s administrative reforms committee has asked all bureaucrats to submit their preferences, Panjiyar today told The Telegraph that Patna would have no power over selection. “We would only forward the options to the U.C. Committee,” he said.

One reason why bureaucrats want a Jharkhand posting could be the state of affairs once Bihar is bifurcated. Jharkhand is home to 80 per cent of India’s known coal deposits, besides being a treasure trove of minerals. Bihar will lose 60 per cent of revenue from mine and mineral royalties.

The state stands to lose all these.

“The loss of revenue would be very difficult to compensate and this will create more trouble for the administration,” said an IAS officer who has decided to opt for Jharkhand.

However, another bureaucrat said it could just be the craze for a “greener pasture” as there was no guarantee that Jharkhand wouldn’t end up being an “administrative chaos. There is also the threat of militancy in the new region,” he said.

But others feel most officers are fed up with the de facto chief minister of the state, Rashtriya Janata Dal chief Laloo Prasad Yadav. As an IPS veteran said, “Any state would be better than this.”    


 
 
CONG WARHORSE REARS UP IN REVOLT 
 
 
FROM RASHEED KIDWAI
 
New Delhi, Sept. 22: 
Sitaram Kesri is an angry old man these days.

Despite Sonia Gandhi’s best efforts to keep him on her side, the deposed Congress chief is planning to rake up her foreign-origins debate and her lack of experience.

Kesri, who seems to have suddenly turned into a “nationalist”, concedes that age is not on his side to don the mantle of leadership again. But he made it clear that, along with a handful of other leaders, he would try to put up some kind of resistance to Sonia’s bid for a second term at the helm.

Two other old war horses unhappy with Sonia’s style of functioning are V.N. Gadgil and K. Karunakaran.

Sources opposed to these veterans say they are attacking the Congress chief as they don’t want to give up their posts and positions even if it means being special invitees to the Congress Working Committee.

Though a few leaders brushed aside criticism from the Kesri camp, they admitted that factionalism within the party was fast spinning out of Sonia’s control. Sonia, they said, was also upset with the increasing attack on Arjun Singh and her private secretary Vincent George, as well as the charge that she was treating members of the erstwhile Congress (T) as “more equal than others”.

Insiders said though she was keen to avoid a contest for the top post, it was becoming inevitable. Sonia, according to them, was also dissatisfied with the explanation given by her advisers that the old guard was wary of losing out to the “generation-next” leaders.

Some of the others who are unhappy with Sonia’s leadership are Jitendra Prasada, Pranab Mukherjee, A.K. Antony, Manmohan Singh, Ahmad Patel, Sushil Kumar Shinde, R.K. Dhawan, Vijaya Bhaskara Reddy, Madhavsinh Solanki and A.B.A. Ghani Khan Chowdhury.

Though leaders like Mukherjee — the new West Bengal state unit chief who replaced Chowdhury — did not really count as dissidents a few months back, fast-changing circumstances left them sulking.

Sources close to Sonia said she might have had a soft corner for all those who quit during P.V. Narasimha Rao’s regime. But now, as head of the parivar, she was consciously trying to take everyone along without bias.

For instance, three of her key trouble-shooters — Ambika Soni, Madhavrao Scindia and Kamal Nath — had nothing to do with the breakaway group. Except for Mohsina Kidwai, all the AICC general secretaries had remained with the Congress when it split in May 1994.

Similarly, with the exception of Sheila Dixit, Sonia picked chief ministers for the seven Congress-ruled states — Rajasthan, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Pondicherry, Nagaland and Arunachal Pradesh — from the parent party.

The 24-member CWC is also packed with those who had not left the party with Arjun Singh and Narain Dutt Tiwari. Ram Niwas Mirdha, who heads the AICC’s central election authority, had also not left the party.

Sources said Sonia also plans to put Salman Khurshid, the recently deposed Uttar Pradesh unit chief, in charge of brushing up the party’s ideology and policies. The newly created department would be a blend of “creativity and leg work”, leaders close to her said.

The AICC chief today called off her visit to Bareilly, in Uttar Pradesh, scheduled for September 27, after new state unit chief Sri Prasad Jaiswal said he wouldn’t be able to mobilise support for the rally.

Bareilly falls between Rampur and Shahjanpur, strongholds of rebel leaders Noor Bano and Prasada.    


 
 
CONSUMER COURTS FACE FIRE FOR JUSTICE DELAY 
 
 
FROM R.VENKATARAMAN
 
New Delhi, Sept. 22: 
The Supreme Court held that a person’s salary could not be the only basis for fixing damages and told consumer courts not to keep complaints pending for too long.

It pulled up the National Consumer Redressal Forum for keeping a case on hold for six years and then asking the complainant to go back to the state forum, saying his claim of Rs 34 lakh in a negligence case against a Delhi hospital was “unrealistic”.

“A mathematical calculation based only on the amount of salary being drawn by the appellant could not be the sole factor to be taken into consideration to style the claim unrealistic or exaggerated or excessive,” the court said.

Taking exception to the delay in addressing the complaint, a three-judge bench of Chief Justice A.S. Anand, Justice M.B. Shah and Justice K.G. Balakrishnan said: “The appellant has virtually been condemned unheard after waiting for six long years.”

“The spirit of the benevolent legislation has been overlooked and its object frustrated,” they added.

The complainant, Charan

Singh, was admitted to the Healing Touch Hospital for removal of “stone from the urethra”. Because of wrong administration of spinal anesthesia, his right hand was paralysed. He also started passing blood with urine.

When Singh went back to the hospital with the complaints, he was “asked to go away and not to return to the hospital ever again”. He went to another diagnostic centre where, on examination, it was found that “his left kidney had been removed”.

Singh moved the consumer forum seeking damages from Healing Touch hospital. But the forum pointed out that he was drawing a salary of Rs 3,000, apart from some allowances, and even if medical negligence caused him a permanent disability, the claim of Rs 34 lakh was excessive. The national forum, after six years, directed him to go back to the state unit with a revised claim.

On his appeal, the Supreme Court said: “The national consumer forum was not fair in disposing of the complaint of the appellant as excessive or exaggerated after six years of the pendency of the complaint”.

“Whether the claim of the appellant was realistic, exaggerated or excessive could only have been determined after the appellant had been given an opportunity to prove the case and establish his claim under various heads.”

The judges thanked the amicus curiae in the case, Indira Jaisingh. Jaisingh established that the appellant had suffered permanent disability and one of his kidneys was illegally removed.

“While quantifying damages, consumer forums are required to make an attempt to serve ends of justice so that compensation is awarded, in an established case, which not only serves the purpose of recompensing the individual, but which also aims to bring about a qualitiative change in the attitude of the service provider,” the court said.

“Calculation of damages depends on the facts and circumstances of each case. No hard and fast rule can be laid down for universal application,” it added.

“It is not merely the alleged harm or mental pain, agony or physical discomfort, loss of salary and emoluments etc. suffered by the appellant which is in issue. It is also the quality of conduct committed by the respondents upon which attention is required to be founded in a case of proven negligence,” the judges said.    

 

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