Planters seek security revamp
Farooq puts balm on Sikh carnage wound
Laxman picks holes in govt food policy
Race wide open for hill CM
Scientist casts shadow on nuke might
Cyclone orphans battle state fury
Hostage states again in apex court firing-line
Sougata lobs split threat
Dara devotees rear head with Delhi roar
Switchover rumours in Bengal BJP

Siliguri, Oct. 31: 
Targeted by militants, tea planters in north Bengal are knocking on the state government’s doors for security.

A meeting of tea associations of north Bengal was held .at the Indian Tea Planters’ Association headquarters in Jalpaiguri today.

In a joint memorandum submitted to the divisional commissioner, Jalpaiguri division, A.K. Jain, it was suggested that the police administration in north Bengal be revamped.

The memorandum said since the July 1999 abduction of Roshanlal Garg, a small planter, there have been regular extortion threats to new tea garden owners.

The memorandum was submitted by representatives of The Dooars Branch of Indian Tea Association, Terai Indian Planters’ Association, Terai Branch of Indian Tea Association, Tea Association of India, North Bengal, Indian Tea Planters’ Association and North Bengal Small Tea Planters’ Association,

It said that assaults on garden managers, rampant stealing of green tea leaves and looting of money meant for salary of the garden staff have become everyday events. All this had ended in the killings of Gopal Agarwal and Deepanker Ghosh and the abduction of Omprakash Agarwal within a span of six days.

“Most of the new tea gardens are unsupervised and uncared for. They face a bleak and uncertain future with possibilities of its spillover to the established gardens,” a planter said.

N.K. Basu, convenor of the West Bengal branch of the Consultative Committee of Plantation Association, the apex body of all tea plantations in the state, said: “North Bengal has witnessed a steep growth of new gardens stretching from Cooch Behar to North Dinajpur set up by small entrepreneurs.

“This has brought about a rapid economic growth as a vast number of locals are directly or indirectly employed. With the invasion of this anarchy, there will be a rollback of employment and economic collapse in the region.”    

Srinagar, Oct. 31: 
The Jammu and Kashmir government today announced a judicial probe into the massacre of 36 Sikhs at Chattisinghpora and the subsequent killing of five persons at Panchthalan Pathribal held responsible for the massacre .

Chief minister Farooq Abdullah told a press meet that the government had accepted the Justice Pandian Commission report, which held seven security personnel responsible for heavy firing in Brackpora on April 3 on people protesting against the Pathribal killings.

He said the Cabinet had also accepted the report of the three-member panel headed by Lt. Gen. J.R. Mukherjee, which indicted five policemen for the death of 35 Amarnath pilgrims on August 1.

Abdullah said the incident was directly related to the Pathribal killings in March and the Chattisinghpora massacre. “We are requesting Justice Pandian to head the judicial probe into those killings as well. My law minister is proceeding to Chennai to request Justice Pandian and I hope he will accept the request,” he said.

The chief minister said the judicial probe had been ordered to “re-instil confidence in the Sikh community which has been voicing fear and apprehension”. He, however, said the DNA reports of the five exhumed bodies at Pathribal had not been received by the state government.

In a detailed report submitted to the government last week after seven months, Justice S.R. Pandian found that three members of the Special Operations Group (SOG) of state police and four jawans of the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) were involved in heavy firing on a procession at Brackpora in Anantnag district demanding exhumation of the bodies of those killed at Pathribal.

Kashmir range police chief A.K. Bhan had then claimed that those killed at Pathribal were foreign militants responsible for the Chattisinghpora massacre. Bhan also said the operation at Pathribal was led by Brigadier Bajaj of Rashtriya Rifles and then Anantnag senior superintendent of police Farooq Khan.

Abdullah said: “An FIR is being registered against three involved members of the SOG and a special police team is being constituted to prove the case in the court.” He said the Pandian report is also being supplied to the state home department “so that the indicted are put under suspension”.

The commission recommended that the next of kin of each victim of the Brackpora shoot-out, in which eight protesters were killed and 15 others injured, should be provided Rs 2 lakh each and the injured be given Rs 1 lakh each. The chief minister said: “We have also accepted the recommendations of the commission to prevent such incidents in future.”    

New Delhi, Oct. 31: 
Feeling the pinch in its strongholds, the BJP today switched focus to bread-and-butter issues and criticised the food policy of the Atal Behari Vajpayee government.

The party regretted that although the government had doubled the quantity of foodgrain available to those below poverty line, there were many families for whom rice and wheat were still unaffordable.

BJP chief Bangaru Laxman voiced concern at the stockpiling of foodgrain after the bumper harvest. “The BJP is concerned over the paradox of our population struggling for two square meals a day, even as the country is burdened with record stocks of foodgrain,” Laxman said at a news conference.

He implied that the government had brought about the situation by hiking the price of foodgrain. As a result, the above-poverty-line price was almost the same as the market price, which discouraged people from getting their quota from ration shops.

Laxman lamented the piling up of grain. “Gone are the days of food shortage. Today we face the shortage of facilities of food storage.” The BJP chief added that he said in October the country was saddled with 400 lakh tonne of foodgrain against an expected total produce of 181 lakh tonne.

Asked what occasioned the criticism given that the party chief had gone out of his way to keep Vajpayee happy, BJP sources said it was because of the party’s performance in the recent elections as well as its fears regarding the elections in the offing.

Sources said the Prime Minister had turned a deaf ear when other NDA constituents had urged him to roll back the hike of the prices of foodgrain, but now it was time to correct the “mistake”.

Although Laxman claimed that his party had been “marching towards our goal to make the BJP a natural party of governance”, senior leaders admitted that it had lost ground in strongholds like Gujarat and Uttar Pradesh — as proved by its performance in the panchayat elections. The party believes the negative impact of economic reforms on agriculture and small industry may be one reason behind the debacle.

Laxman acknowledged the importance of rural constituencies. He said he could suggest ways to the Centre fulfil its electoral promise of a “hunger-free” India. “The BJP urges the government to soon devise an effective programme to sell more rice and wheat at cheaper rates to alleviate the hunger of the one crore most impoverished families,” he stressed.

He suggested that state governments, NGOs and other organisations should be involved in supplying foodgrain at reduced prices. “Such a programme will be a manifestation of our party’s commitment to ‘Antyodaya’ — care for and uplift of the last man in society,” asserted Laxman.

Laxman announced the launch of a two-month campaign to disseminate the spirit of the Chennai declaration and his Nagpur message. However, he shifted the thrust of his Nagpur address from the pro-minorities to poverty-eradication and employment generation and going beyond reservations to evolve “additional measures to bring economic growth to Dalits, Adivasis and OBCs”.    

New Delhi, Oct. 31: 
The BJP today said it was keeping “all options open” on choosing the chief minister for Uttaranchal and did not rule out the possibility of an MP or even a non-MP and non-MLA getting the top post.

“All options are open, nothing can be ruled out,” BJP president Bangaru Laxman said after meeting MPs, legislators and Legislative Council members from the state which will be formally formed on November 9.

The meeting was held to ascertain the leaders’ views on who is best placed to head Uttaranchal keeping in mind its terrain, ethnic complexities and the possibility of the state going to polls simultaneously with Uttar Pradesh next year.

Laxman and his colleagues, Jana Krishnamurthy, Kushabhau Thakre and Narendra Modi, met the members collectively as well as individually.

Modi told reporters that the Uttaranchal representatives had left the final choice to the BJP high command. “No particular preference for an individual candidate was expressed. The members had a separate meeting of their own and decided to accept the central leadership’s choice,” he said.

Modi added that Laxman will brief Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee and home minister L.K. Advani shortly and the chief minister will be elected a couple of days before the state is carved out.

The party top brass has also spoken to Uttar Pradesh chief minister Rajnath Singh and state BJP chief Kalraj Mishra to get feedback on MLAs who have been shortlisted for the top job.

Though Modi said the MPs and MLAs did not lay down any specific name, some of the members told reporters that they would prefer to have a legislator as chief minister. Moreover, they added, if the high command was keen on sending an MP, the person must necessarily have participated in the struggle for a separate hill state.

The second criterion diminishes the chances of K.C. Pant, deputy chairman of the Planning Commission, for the job although he is said to be the Prime Minister’s choice.

Tilak Raj Behad, a legislator from Udhamsinghnagar, said: “Our unanimous view is that the chief minister should be a legislator. But if he is an MP, he should not be an outsider, but someone who took part in the Uttaranchal andolan and went to jail for the cause.”

A section of the BJP’s central leadership, too, feels Pant is not the right candidate because of his age and also because he had not campaigned for Uttaranchal on the ground. “We have to keep in mind the fact that elections in the new state will take place within six months and the hills are difficult to negotiate. The chief minister will lead the party in the elections and he should be a relatively young and energetic person who can travel tirelessly in the hills by road and foot, if necessary,” a BJP leader said.    

Mumbai, Oct. 31: 
A day after the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) highlighted the country’s increased nuclear weapons capability in the wake of the “completely successful” Pokhran tests, a top scientist said India needed to conduct more tests to prove its nuclear might conclusively.

“India should not give up the right to conduct more tests because, in my opinion, the result of the Pokhran tests were not enough,” A.N. Prasad, a former director at the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre and consultant to the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), said.

Earlier, two former AEC chiefs, M.R. Srinivasan and P.K. Iyengar, had also called for more prototype tests.

AEC chairman R. Chidambaram had said the five “carefully planned and completely successful” tests in May 1998 had given “us the capability to design and fabricate nuclear weapons from low yields up to around 200 kilotons”.

Prasad said India would not be able to “convince” its armed forces of its striking capability unless it carried out more tests. “It is most important because you need to assure the forces.”

Prasad added India should not buckle under western pressure and sign the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). “We should keep our options open,” he said.

The scientist argued that India should not forfeit its right to conduct more tests when nuclear super powers by and large retain “the rights”. “I have talked to several western scientists who shared my point of view,” he added.

Prasad’s view is in sharp contrast to the Indian nuclear establishment’s stance following the 1998 tests that the country does not need “prototype” tests and will count on computer simulation of the nuclear blasts in future.

“I am aware of the difference in our opinions,” he said, adding that a computer simulation was often not enough to gauge the power of the warheads.

“A prototype experiment is necessary. Why else do you think France conducted the tests in Muraroa atoll in the mid-1990s?” the scientist asked. China also broke an official moratorium on nuclear testing in 1992.

Prasad said India had “the technology” to produce nuclear weapons of high yields. “When you have the technology, you can build warheads of any yields, two or 200 kilotons.”

Most important, Prasad said India’s nuclear technology was “not borrowed like Pakistan’s”.

Prasad, a member of the UN monitoring, verification and inspection commission, looking for hidden nuclear arsenals in Iraq, said Saddam Hussain was refusing to allow inspectors into the country unless sanctions were lifted. He said the IAEA was satisfied with a probe it conducted on Iraq’s nuclear establishment. “But the agency has not issued any certificate because the UN is not satisfied with its probe on Iraq’s chemical, biological and missile programmes. It appeared the country was hiding a lot.”    

New Delhi, Oct. 31: 
A year after Orissa was devastated by the killer supercyclone, the state government wants to wind up the “Mamata Griha” project started by an NGO for the community-based rehabilitation of hundreds of orphans and widows.

Orissa’s welfare department argues that the state will have a tough time answering questions in Parliament as they have nothing substantive to offer. The state feels its purpose will be served if it has orphanages instead.

But the children do not want to be shifted from Mamata Griha, run by Action Aid. Prashant, 19, refuses all assistance from institutions. “I refuse to go anywhere. When I wake up every morning, I want to see the faces of people I know and have grown up with,” he says.

Mamata Griha was founded on this spirit, something which the children believe will be missing in the impersonal orphanages.

Thrown together by a disaster, the children and the widows have drawn support and sustenance from one another. Together, they have been able to pick up some of the pieces of their shattered lives.

Prashant had taken under his wing 12-year-old Vasudeva and his siblings. They cleared roads, secured food and disposed of the dead. It was a firm bonding — one that the children refuse to break.

Vasudeva, too, does not want to be adopted or taken care of. “I will take care of my brothers and sisters,” he says.

Action Aid has accused the state government of pressuring it to give in. “The officials in the ministry told us that our grant from the Centre could be cut off if we do not agree to the idea of orphanages,” said Harsh Mander, the NGO’s director.

The Mamata Griha project receives a Rs 2-crore grant from the Union ministry of social welfare run by Maneka Gandhi. The money is routed through the state government.

Faced with Orissa’s adamant attitude, Mander turned to Maneka who has supported Action Aid’s projects in Orissa. “We told the Centre that we were ready to give up the grant but will not dismantle the Mamata Grihas,” Mander said.

The minister assured Action Aid of grants, regardless of the state government’s stand.

The Mamata Griha project, according to Action Aid, is one of its kind. Unlike state-sponsored orphanages which uproot the children from their familiar environs, the care centres run by Mamata Griha give the orphans a home in their neighbourhood.

“They are rebuilding their lives in the midst of people they have known all their lives. Why should anyone want to uproot them?” asked an Action Aid worker.

Mander, in turn, has raised a question on institution-based rehabilitation — orphanages, women’s rescue homes and old people’s homes. “Empirical studies have shown that although such institutions possibly ensure physical survival of children, the lack of personalised family care hampers their emotional and intellectual growth,” he said.

Mamta Griha is a cut above orphanages because it is trying to give the children a sense of belonging in their “new” families. The children and the widows do not merely have a roof over their heads, they live as members of an integrated community.    

New Delhi, Oct. 31: 
The Supreme Court today reserved judgment in the legal tussle over whether Veerappan’s associates should be released from jail and voiced anguish over the manner in which Tamil Nadu and Karnataka have handled the issue.

The court, closing its month-long hearing, castigated the governments of the two states for failing to bring the bandit to justice and expressed concern over his association with secessionist forces.

“...for the last 10 years, Veerappan remained out of the reach of law,” said Justice S.P. Bharucha.

“Both states admit their failure to nab him. They say his gang has been reduced to only four to five men. But now instead of a small gang, he has established links with secessionists...We express our anguish over such a development.”

The bench of Justice Bharucha, Justice D.P. Mohapatra and Justice Y.P. Sabharwal did not set any date for its verdict in the case that has delayed the release of Kannada star Raj Kumar, who now faces a fourth month in the clutches of Veerappan.

The bench heard arguments on a batch of three petitions challenging a Karnataka court’s ruling in favour of the release of 160 detainees charged under Tada and the National Security Act.

“Prima facie we feel that the order of the designated court in Mysore allowing dropping of charges against Veerappan and his 160 associates is not sustainable under law,” the bench said.

The court said it felt the two governments acted in “panic” and the public prosecutor made the application before the designated court without satisfying himself about the need for dropping the charges against the accused.

“The application was not made properly,” Justice Bharucha said even as solicitor-general Harish Salve clarified that the Karnataka government had dropped Tada charges against those who were in judicial custody and also against those who were absconding, including Veerappan.

The judges made it clear that it was not questioning the constitutional validity of holding negotiations with a bandit, but said it was only bothered about the legality and validity of the prosecutor moving an application before the designated court to secure the release of Tada and NSA detainees and withdrawal of all cases against them.

“Our prima facie view that the state governments acted in panic without thinking about the repercussions stands reinforced,” the bench added. The judges frowned on the Centre’s argument that it could not intervene in efforts to apprehend Veerappan because law and order is a state subject.

“It is very law abiding to say that law and order is a state subject and the Centre cannot interfere in it. However, in the present case, we have a small part of the two states being used by a brigand which the governments have failed to penetrate. “It has become an enclave of its own. If that is so, it goes beyond the law and order problem as you may see the birth of an independent state within the two states,” Justice Bharucha said.    

Calcutta, Oct. 31: 
The Bengal Congress appears to be heading for another split with vice-president Sougata Roy tonight threatening to leave the party if those dropped as PCC members are not rehabilitated by Saturday.

A month ago, six Congress councillors had defected to join the Trinamul Congress in the Calcutta Municipal Corporation.

“We will wait till Saturday. We are not ruling out a split in the organisation if nothing is done to redress our grievances by then,” Roy warned.

Roy today held a marathon meeting with Pranab Mukherjee, who was elected unopposed as state Congress chief. “I have complained to Pranabbabu about irregularities in the appointment of returning officers in some districts to conduct organisational elections,” he said. The PCC leader added that Mukherjee promised to look into the matter.

He also pointed out that those owing allegiance to former Congress working president and chief whip Priya Ranjan Das Munshi were dropped from the 450-member electoral college. “I discussed the issue over phone with Das Munshi, who is in Delhi,” he added.

Sukhendu Shekhar Roy, a Mukherjee loyalist, was also vocal against the manner in which PCC members were elected. “We are surprised that those loyal to the party have been dropped,” he said.

Das Munshi loyalists criticised Mukherjee and Somen Mitra for inducting those as PCC members who, they claimed, scuttled the party’s prospects in the Rajya Sabha polls and subsequently in Panskura byelections by helping Trinamul to sail through.

“This is a plot by Somen and his associates to sideline Das Munshi loyalists,” said a leader.

Refuting the allegation, the Somen Mitra camp said Das Munshi’s associates were trying to monopolise the electoral process. “Das Munshi’s associates, including Sougata Roy, are seeking an excuse to switch over to Trinamul,” said a Somen loyalist.

Hectic lobbying has begun in the state Congress for berths in the PCC executive which will be constituted after November 11. “We will protest if Das Munshi loyalists are denied adequate berths in the apex decision-making body,” said a PCC office-bearer.    

New Delhi, Oct. 31: 
The Dara Singh Bachao Samiti is back in business. Today it threatened to “burn churches and beat up priests” in Orissa if Dara Singh, who is in Bhubaneswar jail on charges of burning Australian missionary Graham Staines and his two sons to death, is not set free.

The outfit also demanded that Sudarshan Hansda alias Chenchu, the 14-year-old boy who was sentenced to 14 years imprisonment for being part of the mob which burnt Staines and his sons, be released.

The samiti leaders distributed photocopies of selected Bible chapters to drive home the “evil designs” of Christianity. Two thousand years ago, the Bible had exhorted believers to even kill those who did not “surrender”, they said.

Mukesh Jain, general secretary of the samiti, said: “We will burn churches and beat up priests if they do not stop converting Hindus and dividing Hindu society.”

After the killing of the 58-year old missionary and his sons Philip (10) and Timothy (8), Dara Singh had gone underground, but was arrested on June 28 this year.

The outfit leaders are planning to meet home minister L.K. Advani with their demand. They claim to have the sympathy of former minister Ram Jethmalani, who was sacked by the Prime Minister last month.

Samiti working president Dhirendra Nath Pandey said Jethmalani has promised to help the accused with legal advice.

The outfit, headed by Kailash Chand, a former pracharak who was in charge of the RSS’ foreign cell, held a dharna at Jantar Mantar here today to demand the release of Dara Singh and Chenchu.

General secretary Mukesh Jain breathed fire at the Christian missionaries. He said the outfit would not rest till it drove out all missionaries from the country.

Though Jain maintained that neither Dara Singh nor Chenchu were involved, he justified the killings which took place in January 1999 in Keonjhar. “Missionaries are evil,” he said.

Jain distributed photocopies of chapters from Deuteronomy. The photocopies quoted chapter 21 verse 10: “When you go to attack a city, first give its people a chance to surrender. If they open the gates and surrender, they are all to become your slaves and do forced labour for you. But if the people of that city will not surrender, but choose to fight, surround it with your army. Then, when, the Lord your God lets you capture the city, kill every man in it.”    

Calcutta, Oct. 31: 
A statement by Bengal BJP legislator Badal Bhattacharyya accusing the state party of poor performance as an anti-CPM outfit has sparked speculation that he might cross over to the Trinamul Congress.

The rumours were fuelled by Trinamul leaders circulating cop-ies of the statement two days ago.

Bhattacharya, who has been admitted to hospital with high blood pressure, today reiterated that the state party leadership has failed to address the “genuine grievances of party workers”. He, however, ruled out the possibility of quitting the BJP, but stressed on greater co-ordination with the Trinamul.

The statement by the MLA, who represents Habra, has made the state BJP leadership apprehensive about his motives.

The disciplinary action committee of the BJP met this afternoon to review the situation and find effective means to stall his defection. The anti-defection law will not apply to Bhattacharya as he is the sole BJP MLA in the state.

Trinamul leaders, however, feel Bhattacharya has spoken out his mind to create a situation that will ultimately lead to his expulsion from the BJP.    


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