Buddha takes Basu-heir test, scores perfect ten
Advani turns gun on Tiger supporters
Govt promises more flight seats
Haldia Petro split plan off
Backroom moves on women’s Bill
Paswan to take on CPM
George keeps truce chin up
Multiple murders in orange orchard
Lawyer-attack slur off supercop
Moon mission in six years

New Delhi, Nov. 30: 
Stepping into Jyoti Basu’s shoes is not easy. But Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee seemed far from uneasy at his maiden press conference as West Bengal chief minister here this evening.

“There is no one in the West Bengal Cabinet to replace Basu. Though ours is an ideology-based party, individuals sometimes matter, especially if the individual is Jyoti Basu,” said Bhattacharjee with a smile.

His press conference was as crowded as his predecessor’s would have been. The national media was curious to see the man who has taken over from the redoubtable Jyoti Basu. And Bhattacharjee did not disappoint.

The chief minister smiled his way through the one-hour question-answer test. “A more responsive and organised Left Front government is the only alternative in West Bengal,” he said.

Spotting a familiar face in the crowd of reporters, the chief minister called out: “Arre, mama.” Pointing to the veteran journalist, he told others: “You know, he’s my mama.”

Bhattacharjee spent most of the time giving details of his meeting with the Prime Minister and home minister and was mild on the Left Front’s principal opponent, the Trinamul Congress.

“I am ready to talk to Trinamul Congress and the BJP. But the lady seems shy to meet me,” the chief minister said.

Trinamul leader Mamata Banerjee’s proposal to provide job reservation for Muslims was “unconstitutional and dangerous”, he said. “I have told the Prime Minister so,” he added.

Bhattacharjee was in the capital on a courtesy visit. There are a lot of pending issues, he said. “But this was my first visit and I did not want to bother the Prime Minister with all the problems.”

Bhattacharjee sounded like Basu when he spoke about the need for a new work culture and trade union norms in the changed economic environment. The CPM does not accept the fiat of the World Bank or the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and does not wish to spawn “slave labour”, he said. “But we are at the same time trying to impress upon the workers the importance of the new situation and to improve quality and productivity.”

Productivity, the chief minister insisted, cannot be the headache of the employers alone. “Workers, too, will have to change their attitude and philosophy.”

“We agree that the work culture in West Bengal should improve. There is a move to start a performance diary following the attendance diary which we have already started keeping,” the chief minister said.

Those used to seeing Basu stride off after a press conference were pleasantly surprised when a group of journalists walked into Bhattacharjee’s room for a chat.

The media-savvy chief minister had a personal word for each of those he knew. Aware that he had done well, Bhattacharjee played the perfect host, offering tea and making small talk.    

New Delhi, Nov. 30: 
Home minister L.K. Advani today admitted in the Rajya Sabha that LTTE activists and sympathisers were indulging in activities “prejudicial to the sovereignty and territorial integrity of India”.

Advani was speaking in the context of the role played by pro-LTTE mediators in screen icon Raj Kumar’s release.

Tabling a statement in response to a call attention motion moved by Congress chief whip Pranab Mukherjee, he said Central and state law enforcement agencies were keeping track of the banned outfit’s movements and asserted that the Centre wouldn’t tolerate any attempt to harm the country.

The tough talk came after Tamil Maanila Congress (TMC) MP Peter Alphonse alleged that LTTE-affiliated outfits like the Tamil Nationalist Liberation Army (TNLA) and the Tamil Nationalist Revolutionary Front (TNRF) had publicly declared their “avowed aim to create a separate Tamil Eelam”. Both had played a part in securing Raj Kumar’s freedom.

Advani was, however, put on the defensive when some members accused George Fernandes of being the chief patron of an outfit that had funded and legally helped those convicted for killing Rajiv Gandhi. MDMK chief Vaiko was charged with allowing pro-LTTE literature to be distributed at a family function.

The home minister conceded that he was aware that some NDA constituents were “sympathetic” to the Tamil Tigers. But he refused to accept the charges against the defence minister. “In all the three years I have worked with him, he has never said or done anything in favour of this banned organisation,” he said.

He also defended the DMK, another NDA ally. “Let us recall there was a time when virtually all the Tamil Nadu parties, including the ADMK, the DMK and the DK, professed the concept of a separate Tamil country. Later, when Annadurai was the DMK general secretary, he moved a resolution giving up the demand for a Dravidanadu,” Advani said.

“Today, the DMK has stated it will uphold the sovereignty of the country and said we will determinedly put down any demand for secessionism. I would welcome such a statement.”

Explaining his presence at an MDMK rally — in which pro-LTTE speeches were made — Advani said: “I criticised the LTTE from the same platform and said cross-terrorism is a major problem and any organisation which practices it must be strongly opposed.”

He added that members of the multi-disciplinary monitoring agency, set up by the Centre to follow up the Action Taken Report on the Jain Commission’s findings, had visited Sri Lanka on November 13 and 23 to seek LTTE boss Prabhakaran’s extradition.

The discussion soon turned into a slanging match between the DMK and the ADMK-TMC combine.

When Alphonse insinuated that the DMK and the MDMK had planned to project TNRF chief Nedumaran as the “proponent of a separate Tamil country” after his “achievement”, DMK’s Viduthalai Virumbi counter-attacked, saying Kollothur Mani, another player in the abduction saga, was linked to the Congress and the TMC.    

New Delhi, Nov. 30: 
Along with disinvestment in Air-India and Indian Airlines, the Centre is considering further liberalising the bilateral air traffic rights policy.

“We are liberalising our policy for bilateral air traffic rights on a need-driven basis,” minister of state for civil aviation Chaman Lal Gupta said today.

He told an international conference on aviation and tourism that a capacity of over a million seats had been added in the past year. The minister said the government had signed bilaterals with 15 countries.

The Centre was “seriously considering” introduction of small-sized and small-capacity aeroplanes which would have more endurance, Gupta said.

According to the new draft civil aviation policy, all scheduled operators would be required to deploy 10 per cent of their capacity in the Northeast, Jammu and Kashmir, Andaman and Nicobar Islands and Lakshadweep.

Opening the conference, heavy industries and public enterprises minister Manohar Joshi said there was a “vast opportunity” for foreign investment and incorporation of modern technology in the aviation and tourism sectors.

Joshi said the growth of air traffic in the Asia-Pacific region was “more striking than any other part of the world”. He added estimates of the World Tourism Organisation showed that the 700 million arrivals in this region at present would double in about 15 years.

Airports Bill

The government today introduced a Bill amending the Airports Authority of India Act to allow the state-owned monopoly to lease out airports to private entreprenuers.

Introducing the Bill in the Lok Sabha, civil aviation minister Sharad Yadav said AAI did not have adequate finances and so the government had decided to invite private investors.

The Left opposed the Bill, arguing this would render several workers jobless and was against national interests.

The AAI manages about 94 civilian airports and 28 civil enclaves at defence airports in the country. The government is keen on privatising the airports at Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai and Calcutta only.

Justifying the move to rope in private players, Yadav said the services and facilities at the airports were not on a par with international standards.    

New Delhi, Nov. 30: 
The plan to split Haldia Petrochemicals Limited into two has been dropped. Instead, Indian Oil Corporation will pick up a stake in the company as a fourth partner, Bengal chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee said today.

“The latest thinking on the subject is that Haldia Petro will not be bifurcated. Instead Indian Oil Corporation will participate in the company as a whole,” he said. “The government also wants IOC to participate in Haldia Petro in a big way.”

Asked what will be IOC’s holding in the restructured equity pattern, he said: “That is a secret.” He said discussions on the restructuring of HPL were held with the IOC chief earlier this month.

Bengal finance minister Asim Dasgupta was also holding regular talks with Purnendu Chatterjee and Ratan Tata, the other major equity holders in HPL, apart from the state government, on the restru- cturing.

Bhattacharjee claimed that 142 downstream units for HPL have come up or were in the process of being set up. Seventeen of these are in Orissa.    

New Delhi, Nov. 30: 
Parliamentary affairs minister Pramod Mahajan is believed to have initiated behind-the-scene moves to evolve a consensus on the women’s reservation Bill to iron out issues like the reservation quantum and a separate quota for backward caste women.

Although ministry sources said the Bill would be taken up for discussion in its existing form in the last week of the winter session, BJP sources claimed Mahajan had been sounding out representatives of various parties on whether a mutually acceptable solution to the controversial legislation could be found.

They said three proposals have been mooted by Mahajan: one, to accept the Election Commission recommendation to amend the Representation of People’s Act to make it incumbent on parties to give one-third of the tickets in Parliament and Assembly elections to women. But this idea has not been backed by the party’s own women MPs who argued it would be used to field women from “weak” seats and allow men to corner “winnable” ones.

Two, to have a fresh delimitation and increase the number of Lok Sabha and Assembly seats in proportion to the ratio of population increase. But this suggestion, admitted parliamentary ministry sources, was bound to be rejected by the southern states. which have taken family-planning seriously.

Third, members suggested a uniform increase in the seats in every state by a mutually accepted figure like, say, 20 per cent. This would mean a state like Uttar Pradesh which has 80 Lok Sabha seats would get an additional 16 while Kerala, which has only five seats, would add another four.    

New Delhi, Nov. 30: 
Ram Vilas Paswan, today said his Jan Shakti party would fight the Left Front in the forthcoming Assembly elections in Bengal.

The communications minister said the CPM would be his main target in Bengal. He, however, parried questions on whether the Jan Shakti would strike up an electoral alliance with the Trinamul Congress.

He said barring the BJP, his party would wipe out every party in Bihar and asserted that he would not allow the Rabri Devi government to complete its five- year term.

Paswan announced the appointment of former Bihar chief minister Abdul Ghafoor as party vice-president, former Union minister Jainarayan Prasad Nishad as chairman of parliamentary board, Lok Sabha MP Ramesh Jigajinagi as secretary general and Chitra Singh as general secretary.    

New Delhi, Nov. 30: 
The Centre is keeping its fingers crossed on the Ramzan ceasefire that came into effect on Tuesday.

Trying to sound confident, defence minister George Fernandes told a group of Vietnamese journalists here today that the ceasefire “will hold well”.

Fernandes’ statement assumes significance as he is one among five members of the Cabinet Committee on Security which is keeping a watch over the developments in Jammu and Kashmir. The defence minister is being briefed at length by the army.

Describing the ceasefire decision in the Valley “well taken”, Fernandes hoped Pakistan “would not have to regret” not responding to the Vajpayee government’s initiative. He admitted the July ceasefire declared by the Hizb-ul Mujahideen “was a bad experience”.

Government sources said that the killings taking place in Jammu and Kashmir and the few minor attacks on security forces were “isolated” and “could take place at any given time” in the state. “We are still watching the situation and are optimistic, if not of a response from Pakistan, at least of the fact that there would be no major carnage,” a senior home ministry official said. “The killings that took place yesterday and the day before will not affect the ceasefire,” he added.

The sources said that the government will carefully monitor the situation through the Ramzan month. However, the sources said, in the event of any major incident of violence the decision to call off the ceasefire will be taken by the political leadership.

An official said the silence of the Hizb is significant.    

Bhopal, Nov. 30: 
A serial killer has left a trail of blood in the orange orchards about 100 km from Nagpur.

A pscychopath went on a killing spree on Tuesday night in Chhindwara in south Madhya Pradesh. He stabbed one person to death in an orange orchard of Pandhurna and then burnt six persons of a family to death — within a span of three hours.

He also made some more attempts at murder in those hours. The youth, who fled the scene, has not been arrested yet.

A little after midnight, six persons of a tribal farmer family, including four minor children, were charred to death by the unknown assailant described by locals to the police as a “madman”. The seventh member of the family survived to relate the gory death story to the police.

The family of Punaji Dhrube (40), who survived, was asleep when the killer came to their house with a javelin and a huge can of kerosene.

He bolted the door from outside so that his victims could not escape. Then he liberally sprinkled kerosene on the verandah before climbing on to the roof of the two-roomed hutment.

Inside lay the family of seven including Punaji, his wife Kanjrabai (38), daughters Anita (12), Sangeeta (10), Sunanda (6), son Sunna (2) and Punaji’s brother Suraj Dhrube (30), deep in slumber.

Perched on top of the house, the killer removed the clay tiles from the roof and emptied all the kerosene on the sleeping seven who lay huddled together in the chilly winter night. Before the victims could react, the murderer had thrown down a couple of lighted matchsticks on them.

Within seconds the whole house was like a ball of fire, with the victims crying for help. They rushed towards the door to find it locked from outside. Only Punaji survived. He climbed out of the window but failed to save his wife, brother or any of the four children. All six died on the spot. The police could recover only the charred remains of their bodies.

Punaji told the police that while escaping from the window, he saw a man jumping, leaping and crying with joy: “I’ve done it. I’ve done it. I have more to kill,” before disappearing into the darkness.

The police have recovered the javelin and the culprit’s slippers from the spot.

The police also found that starting at 10 p.m., the psychopath had also made three more attempts on Tuesday.

He attacked the chowkidar at a nearby orange orchard that night. Alpu Uike was stabbed with the sharp javelin, but survived as he overpowered the killer.

He fled and entered another orchard, where he repeatedly stabbed the 38-year-old Kanhaiyya Koshiram. But Koshiram, too, survived.

The second failure urged the killed into the third orchard where he simultaneously attacked a 50-year-old farmer Ganga and his daughter Meena. Meena suffered minor injuries and rushed to call for help. But her father died, trying to save his daughter.

The district administration was tight-lipped on the killings and none of the senior officials was available for comment.

The state top brass tried to brush away the death of the six in a family as accidents, but failed to explain the death of Ganga and the series of attacks before the killings.

The police are looking for the killer.    

New Delhi, Nov. 30: 
Nine years after she was summoned for her controversial role in the Delhi lawyers lathicharge, supercop Kiran Bedi was relieved today.

Delhi High Court quashed an order of a lower court summoning Bedi, who led the lathicharge to control a mob of lawyers protesting against her.

Bedi, now joint-commissioner of police (training), was deputy commissioner of police, Delhi, in 1991,when the incident occurred. The lawyers, who allegedly entered her room to ransack her office, were beaten “black and blue”.

A single-judge bench of Justice R.S. Sodhi, which quashed the summons, said the court could not have taken cognizance of the complaint filed against Bedi as no prior government permission was obtained to prosecute her as required under the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC) and as per procedure established by the Delhi Police Act.

“The order taking cognizance cannot be made by wearing blinkers but must be taken on the basis of the totality of the material before the court,” Justice Sodhi said.

Bedi had challenged the order of summons of the metropolitan magistrate. Offences like “voluntarily causing hurt” and “criminal intimidation” were pending before the high court against her since 1995.

In their complaint, the lawyers and several advocates’ bodies had charged Bedi with violating all legal norms while ordering the lathicharge. They contended that Bedi’s order could not be termed as one covered under the law protecting a public servant from discharging his/her duty.

But the high court rejected this contention. “It cannot be said that the assembly of lawyers that had gheraoed the office of the DCP, as Bedi then was in 1991, was not obstructing her from discharging her official duty,” the court observed.

It also justified her summoning additional forces to protect her premises from being ransacked by the lawyers.

“Even if during this process she had misjudged the situation or had violated any provision of the law and did not give sufficient warning to the people assembled, it cannot be said that she was taking action not in discharge of her duty,” the court said.    

Bangalore, Nov. 30: 
India plans to launch a mission to the moon in a few years, Indian Space Research Organisation (Isro) chairman K. Kasturirangan said today.

“It is not a dream project. You can’t be doing such projects just for dreams. We need something concrete,” he said, adding that extensive talks were underway about the feasibility of the project.

Kasturirangan indicated that the mission would fructify in six to seven years after the government gives the go-ahead. Isro believes that a lunar launch will boost its technological capability and also ignite popular imagination.

The Isro chief was talking to journalists on the sidelines of a presentation on Discovery’s Inside the Space Station programme, to be beamed in December.

He allayed doubts about the utility of such a grandiose mission, considering that the US had undertaken a mission to land man on the moon more than 30 years ago.

A few scientists at the Indian Institute of Science had questioned the need for such a programme, saying the costs were high and the benefits minimal.

According to H.S. Mukunda, chairman of the institute’s aerospace department, India needs the money spent to build more and superior satellites. “The moon’s surface has been thoroughly explored, nothing new we can contribute to it,” Mukunda said.

But Kasturirangan rejected their scepticism, saying: “They are in a minority.”

He said Indian scientists planned to conduct four to six experiments on board the international space station being built in the US by a consortium of 15 countries under the leadership of Nasa. The space station will be fully operational by 2005.

Asked if remote sensing satellites could track down forest brigand Veerappan, who held Kannada screen icon Raj Kumar hostage for more than 100 days, Kasturirangan shot back, saying: “Is there any evidence of any individual having been tracked down by satellites?”

He said: “Satellites only give an overall picture of vegetation, roads and tracks and others. Additional information is needed. You cannot make 10 per cent of information to 100 per cent of information.”    


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