Parents send SOS on trauma train
Rally ban in Hill border areas
Audit picks holes in youth hostel repair bill
Angry troika backlash at Atal ‘advice’
Sudarshan in bomb backtrack
Mamata explodes on Bengal taunt
Thackeray gifts Cong fresh ammo
Mamata friends at terror display
Scribe twist to maid molest case
Nightmare end to dollar dreams

Calcutta, Dec. 20: 
Several hundred guardians and parents of students studying in various residential schools of Purulia have urged South Eastern Railway authorities for immediate measures to revamp a train that links Purulia to other parts of the state.

The guardians are concerned as they said travelling by the train, Chakradharpur Passenger, was gradually becoming impossible for them due to the deteriorating standard of facilities.

They alleged that apart from late running, the train did not have even minimum amenities, which makes visits to Purulia a nightmare.

Concerned over the guardians’ grievances, the South-Eastern railway authorities today order- ed an inquiry into their complaints.

“The matter has come to our notice. We are looking into the complaints of the guardians,” said D. N. Jha, additional divisional railway manager (ADRM), Adra.

The 315 Up and 316 Down Howrah-Chakradharpur is the most convenient train for the guardians to travel to Purulia as it leaves Howrah in the evening and reaches Purulia the next morning. The schedule is convenient for the parents for returning to Calcutta after staying with the children the whole day. The down train leaves Purulia on the next evening and reaches Howrah the following morning.

However, the guardians said they can hardly avail of this benefit due to the irregular arrival and departure of the train.

Describing the plight, G.K. Sil, father of a student of Purulia Ramakrishna Mission in Howrah, said: “We have to go thorough traumatic experiences every week travelling by the train. Minimum comforts are not available in the train, even though we have to travel an overnight journey.”

Most of the compartments are in a ramshackle condition without proper toilets. There is no water connection in the bogies and most of the windows do not have shutters, said some of the guardians.

They pointed out that what worried them most was the irregular timings of the train. They said according to the original schedule, the train was supposed to reach Purulia at 5.50 am.

“Unfortunately, the train never reaches on time on most of the days. The late arrival of the train causes a lot of inconvenience for us. The school hostels are kept open for visitors at a fixed time. If we fail to reach the hostels on time, we cannot see our children as they have to leave for lunch,” said Tapati Barik of Shyambazar in Calcutta, mother of a student in the Sainik school in Purulia.

Namita Dutta, whose son studies in Ramakrishna Mission, cited her grievances at the late arrival of the train in Howrah.

“We can never attend work at the right time as the down train often gets stuck at Santragachi,’ Dutta, who works in a hospital in Calcutta, said.

Jha, however, said preliminary inquiries revealed that the train was by and large punctual.


Siliguri, Dec. 20: 
The government has decided to ban rallies, processions and public meetings in six border police station areas bordering Nepal and Bhutan to contain the political turmoil triggered by a resurgence of separatist movements in Darjeeling.

A notification issued by the acting district magistrate of Darjeeling, Rajesh Pandey, has said rallies, processions and public meetings would not be allowed to be held till December 31 without prior permission.

The district magistrate has asked the sub-divisional officers and block development officers to strictly adhere to the order to preserve peace and tranquillity.

The order is being seen as a response to the growing belligerence of Kamtapur Peoples’ Party (KPP) in the plains and the Gorkhaland Liberation Organisation (GLO) in the hills of Darjeeling.

Pandey said the ban was necessitated following attempts by “some undesirable elements” to disrupt peace in the border areas by organising processions and rallies without prior permission.

Pandey said the police stations under the purview of the ban are Naxalbari, Kharibari and Siliguri in the plains. The regulation will be in effect in Mirik and Sukiapokhari police stations under the Kurseong-Darjeeling sub-divisions in the hills bordering Nepal.

The Gorubathan police station area, bordering Bhutan, under the Kalimpong sub-division also falls under the ban.


Calcutta, Dec. 20: 
An audit of the bills for reconstructing the state-run youth hostel in Puri has thrown up irregularities.

The youth services department claimed to have spent over Rs 6 lakh on this account, but it could not produce documents to substantiate the expenditure.

The minister in charge, Manab Mukherjee, said he was not aware of such irregular expenditure and would speak to the director of youth services. “I shall probe the matter and let you know of my findings later,” Mukherjee said.

According to a statement made by the office of the auditor general of Bengal, the youth services department had sanctioned Rs 6 lakh by an order ( 57-ys/p/1 s-14/92) for repairing and renovating an old building for the youth hostel in Puri in February 2, 1996.

The building, Gangadhar Nilay, was the ancestral property of the state fisheries minister, Kironmoy Nanda’s family. The Nandas donated the building to the state youth services department for setting up the youth hostel.

A local contractor was hired for renovating the building and the department had issued a cheque for Rs 6.08,500 in his name and directed the Midnapore treasury for payment.

However, the treasury officer refused to clear the cheque, citing insufficient documents. The department overruled the objection and paid the money to the contractor.

While examining the case, the office of the auditor-general reported the following irregularities:

No government approval had been obtained for expenditure in excess of the sanctioned amount. Such approval is mandatory in cases of additional expenditure.

In the contractor’s bills, there was no mention of work order issued by the department.

The date of starting and completion of the work could not be assessed due to the absence of the measurement book. It was nor clear under whose supervision the work was done.

There was no agreement between the department and the contractor before assigning him for the job. Such an agreement is mandatory in government work.

Estimates were not approved by the department before starting of work.

It was not known how the contractor was selected by the department. There was no evidence of a tender.

No documents were produced regarding measurement of the area demolished, reconstructed and renovated.

It “seems that the expenditure estimate is prepared the on ad hoc basis and passed for payment”.


New Delhi, Dec. 20: 
The dust kicked up over his statements on the Ayodhya Ram temple yet to settle down, Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee has sowed the seeds of another controversy by advising his allies not to cross the “limit”.

Addressing BJP MPs yesterday, Vajpayee said the allies should keep “within limits” (seema ka andar) and within the parameters of decorum” (maryada) while criticising the government in Parliament.

The Telugu Desam has taken the lead in organising a protest and has sought an appointment with the Prime Minister to express collective “anguish” at his “uncalled for” remark.

Sources said Desam chief Chandrababu Naidu also discussed Vajpayee’s comments with M. Karunanidhi (DMK) and Mamata Banerjee (Trinamul Congress) over phone. The three key allies have taken strong exception to Vajpayee’s “unsolicited” advice asking them to have a “national perspective”.

Naidu had a teleconference with his MPs today on the Prime Minister’s remark. They were told that whether the Prime Minister liked it or not, the Desam would raise such issues (Ayodhya and the plight of farmers) in future also. “We never embarrassed this government in the last 15 months, but we will not compromise on secularism,” a Desam source said.

Desam leader in the Lok Sabha Yerran Naidu is likely to meet the Prime Minister tomorrow to discuss the issue. However, Yerran Naidu played down the issue, saying: “We have sought an appointment with him to discuss various issues, including his remarks.”

While Mamata chose not to react, Karunanidhi said Vajpayee’s advice to his allies to exercise restraint “was equally applicable to the BJP”.

“Are they not our allies too?” the Tamil Nadu chief minister asked while speaking to reporters in Chennai.

Desam sources said they never expected such comments from Vajpayee, that too close on the heels of the Ayodhya controversy.

Describing the Prime Minister’s comment as “unfortunate”, a Desam source said: “The allies are raising issues concerning the people. For 15 months, we tolerated the BJP’s behaviour. We too have to account to our people,” he said.

The Desam pilloried the government for not having an effective mechanism to monitor the functioning of public sector undertakings (PSU) and demanded a White Paper on the issue.

Participating in the resumed discussion on disinvestment, Desam MP M.V.V.S. Murthy said there was “lethargy” on the Centre’s part which had failed to take the “right decision at the right time”.


New Delhi, Dec. 20: 
Having created a furore by suggesting that a bomb explosion had razed the Babri masjid, RSS chief K.S. Sudarshan today retracted his statement before the Liberhan Commission probing the demolition.

After Uma Bharti’s statement yesterday that L.K. Advani and Murli Manohar Joshi had tried to restrain the mob from dismantling the structure and that the emotionally-charged crowd did not listen to him. Any reference by Sudarshan to a bomb blast would have caused confusion. It would have put Bharti’s words against Sudarshan. Former RSS chief Rajendra Singh also does not subscribe to the bomb explosion theory.

Most newspapers had reported Sudarshan’s statement made in Kerala. The commission had issued summons to the RSS chief on December 12 in the wake of his address at an RSS rally in Thiruvananthapuram claiming that the demolition was caused by a blast from within the structure.

There was a hint that the kar sevaks had not dismantled the mosque. Instead, the statement implied sabotage and an effort to shift the blame away from the kar sevaks.

Sudarshan arrived with former BJP MP Satpal Jain. The RSS chief disowned his statement, saying he was quoting the views of Gandhian and former MP Nirmala Deshpande.

“These things which have been attributed to me are not my own views. These observations were made by me quoting Nirmala Deshpande. What was actually said by Deshpande has been ascribed to me,” the RSS chief said. He submitted an audio tape of his speech with its English transcript.

Sudarshan, however, stood by his statement that a senior Congress leader from Maharashtra had sent a fax message in Marathi to P.V. Narasimha Rao. He said: “Inner circles of his Cabinet were aware that an explosion had brought down the mosque”.

Sudarshan added that yesterday he had received a letter from Kunwar Dharamvir Singh Rawal, saying the mosque was demolished by an explosion carried out by an Anees Ahmad Gehlot. Gehlot, according to the information received by Sudarshan, had gone to Ayodhya in the guise of a kar sevak and planted three brick-shaped explosive devices inside the mosque. Gehlot, he said, was murdered in 1997.


New Delhi, Dec. 20: 
Touched on her raw nerve, Mamata Banerjee today lost her cool in the Lok Sabha and told a BJP legislator that she did not care for the minister’s job. She said she could be removed from the post of railway minister if the member had any problem.

Trouble erupted late in the night when Tarachand Gehlot, MP from Madhya Pradesh, ticked Mamata off, saying she did not bother about the railways and spent most of her time and energy in West Bengal politics.

Participating in the discussion on the railway ministry’s demand for supplementary grants for 2000-2001, Gehlot said if Mamata spent more time in the ministry, it would improve the situation of the railways.

Angry over Gehlot’s remarks, the Trinamul Congress chief said: “I give more time to the ministry than the party... I have not even gone abroad... If the BJP member has a problem, I can be removed.” Mamata added that every MP visits his constituency.

Taken aback by the minister’s angry response, Gehlot said he did not mean that she was neglecting the ministry, but that she should spend more time in it.


Nw Delhi, Dec. 20: 
Less than five months after its aborted bid to tackle Bal Thackeray for “inciting” riots, the Congress-led coalition government is gearing up to confront the Shiv Sena chief for taking a swipe at Muslims.

Chief minister Vilasrao Deshmukh said Thackeray had apparently hurt the sentiments of the minority community through a front-page interview in Saamna, the Sena mouthpiece. Deshmukh said he had asked the law department to examine the interview and suggest “appropriate action” against Thackeray.

In the three-part interview, the Sena boss had pleaded that Muslims be disenfranchised to make them “nidharmi Hinduwadi”. Thackeray, who is known for frequent anti-Muslim outbursts, was arrested on July 25 for inflammatory editorials in the Saamna.

But the case was rejected by the metropolitan magistrate’s court that very day on the ground that the charges had been framed too late. The government has moved the high court.

The present interview has given the government another chance to nail Thackeray and shocked the Muslims. “He is losing his balance and trying to whip up a communal frenzy,” writer Rafiq Zakaria said. “Nothing could please Gen. Musharraf more than what Thackeray has said.”

Deshmukh said the government would ask the police to frame “specific” charges against Thackeray after it received the law department’s report on the interview.

The Sena chief today defended himself, saying he had asked for disenfranchising Muslims to end votebank politics. All major political parties, he said, were using the community as a votebank.

The government appears to be treading carefully this time so as not to repeat the July mistake. Though it claims to have a good case against the Sena chief, it has sought legal opinion before pressing charges against him.

Bangaru on tightrope

In Delhi, the BJP’s “Muslim messiah”, party president Bangaru Laxman, fought shy of responding to Bal Thackeray’s demand.

Laxman, who began his tenure as BJP president with a call to Muslims to join his party, said the Shiv Sena leader’s call to strip them of voting rights deserved “neither condemnation nor notice”. Laxman, hosting an iftar at the BJP headquarters, added: “I have no comments to offer, because this is not the first time he has said such things.”

BJP sources said Laxman’s guarded response to Thackeray’s call was a reflection of the “nervousness” that had crept into him following Vajpayee’s offensive on Ayodhya.

A few things went wrong during today’s iftar. Vajpayee chose to walk out of the venue at the very moment when the azan call was sounded.

An honoured guest, the octogenarian Devi Lal, was ignored by the BJP’s minorities morcha leaders who presented the traditional skull cap and scarf to everyone present on the dais save the tau.


New Delhi, Dec. 20: 
Union law minister Arun Jaitley and Telugu Desam parliamentary party leader K. Yerran Naidu today visited Mamata Banerjee’s live show of Bengal violence here to express solidarity with the Trinamul Congress chief.

After meeting the victims of “Red terror”, Jaitley said: “The Centre will take appropriate action against the state government. The CPM will have to pay a heavy price for suppressing political criticism through the worst kind of violence”.

Home minister L.K. Advani, parliamentary affairs minister Pramod Mahajan and Shahi Imam of Jama Masjid are likely to visit the exhibition of widows and men maimed allegedly by CPM goons in Midnapore and Hooghly.

Jaitley, who arrived at the grotesque show on the Constitution Club lawns, was taken around and given details about each victim by Trinamul leaders Sudip Bandopadhyay, Ali Akbar Khondekar and Bikram Sarkar. The law minister also took a look at about 40 photos, most of them documenting police brutality on Trinamul workers.

Before leaving, the minister signed the visitors’ book kept at the exhibition enclosure. He wrote: “A conclusive evidence of violation of democracy and human rights in West Bengal.”

When asked if he would recommend President’s rule in the state, Jaitley said: “The Centre will take an overall view of the whole situation. The we will take appropriate action.”

On the grim exhibition, he said: “I don’t think it is a matter of reaction. When you see so many people with limbs chopped off... it is a glaring example of violence and of violation of human rights. It also shows how functional democracy has failed in West Bengal. It shows the worst kind of intolerance practised by the Marxists.”

Police station raid

Trinamul Congress supporters today ransacked Pursura police station in Hooghly when the subdivisional police officer allegedly refused to discuss the law and order situation with the Trinamul leaders in their presence.

Reacting sharply to the incident, chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee said the culprits would be brought to book.

After his rounds, Naidu called for Central intervention “to normalise” law and order in the state. But he did not support imposition of Article 356 as his party is opposed to move.

Signing the visitors’ book, the Desam leader scribbled that the Centre should take immediate steps to protect the life and property of people in the state as the CPM had “completely failed to do the same”.

Naidu said the Centre and the Election Commission should take necessary steps to ensure that the Assembly elections next year are free and fair. He added that adequate Central forces should be deployed to prevent electoral malpractices.


Chandigarh, Dec. 20: 
Punjab and Haryana High Court today served notice on the Punjab government to respond to the petition filed by Mamta Sharma alleging molestation by additional director-general of police (security) B.P. Tiwari on December 14.

Justice V.M. Jain asked the state government to respond to the notice on Friday.

The 19-year-old, employed as a domestic help to look after Tiwari’s wife Promilla who was suffering from a serious knee ailment, had filed the petition in the court yesterday alleging that Tiwari had molested her and even tried to rape her. Tiwari has denied the charge.

But the allegation took a curious turn after a city-based TV journalist accused the IPS officer of misbehaving with her.

Navjyot Sidhu, a correspondent with the Aaj Tak news programme, alleged that Tiwari had misbehaved with her at his residence when she went to seek his reaction to the molestation charge.

Sidhu also told Punjab director-general of police Sarbjit Singh that Tiwari used “objectionable” words like “darling” while talking to her and demanded action against the officer. “He was also drunk,” she said. Tiwari was not available for comment.

Mamta’s maternal uncle Jagjit Singh Sandhu claimed that Tiwari had sent a sub-inspector of the Punjab Police to him to negotiate a compromise.

“The sub-inspector called me up and asked me to reach a compromise with Tiwari,” said Sandhu, who was instrumental in highlighting the molestation charge against Tiwari.

Sandhu, who had introduced Mamta to the police officer who was looking for a “female” domestic help, said he would not settle for any compromise. “I will not strike any compromise,” he said. “I told the emissary to contact Mamta’s advocate Navkiran Singh for any dialogue.” Tiwari, however, has denied that he authorised anyone to approach Sandhu.

Sandhu also denied Tiwari’s allegation that an Akali minister had recommended security for him in Nawanshahr. “How can I approach the Akalis for security. I am a staunch Congress supporter and people in Nawanshahr know it,” he said.

Tiwari has refuted the molestation charges saying they were made against him by Mamta at Sandhu’s behest after the police started making inquiries into his antecedents. He said the probe was necessary as Sandhu had sought state security because of “threats from terrorists”.

According to Tiwari, the probe revealed that Sandhu had a dubious track record with a number of cheating cases against him. “It was then that I asked him to take Mamta back from my home. And it led to the allegations against me,” Tiwari said, adding that Sandhu had “planted” Mamta in his house to “blackmail” him.

The allegation has jolted the Punjab Police. “We had thought that the K.P.S. Gill saga with Rupan Deol Bajaj was the last of such unsavoury incidents in the state. While it is too early to jump to any conclusions against Tiwari who has a distinguished record, Sidhu’s allegations against him has painted the force in black,” a senior officer said.

In her petition to the high court, Mamta has sought a direction to the superintendent of police of Kurukshetra to ensure protection to her and her family members. She has also sought a CBI probe into the incident.


Hyderabad, Dec. 20: 
About 50 youths who went to Malaysia from Amalapuram in search of dollars ended up being sold to labour contractors by their travel agent as soon as they landed in Bangkok.

After paying Rs 20,000 each to the agent, the youths got job offers and visas and were sent to Malaysia via Chennai. They left in August to work for $75 per day as farm labourers. The youths were promised they would be sent back after three months, in time for Sankranti.

As soon as they landed in Bangkok, the youths were rushed into waiting lorries. They were taken to rice and tapoica farms by the contractors who told them they had been hired for three months. They were given an advance of Rs 20,000.

After a month, whenever the youths asked for money they were told to wait till the completion of the tenure. At the end of the third month, they were thrown out. They were even threatened with jail terms if they did not leave. Instead of the promised Rs 500 per day, the labourers were paid only Rs 75. The bewildered youths were left to fend for themselves as their travel agent had absconded with their passports.

When they approached the police they were beaten up. Persistent efforts to seek justice landed them in jail for “unauthorised entry into the country and overstay”.

When the youths wrote home about their predicament, relatives, with the help of the police and the district collector, traced the agent who sent his son to Malaysia to talk to the contractors but failed.

The youths have been languishing in jail. Despite the Indian embassy’s intervention, Malaysia refuses to release them.

The Malaysian government has slapped a penalty of Rs 45,000. They have to buy their own air tickets as well.

Parents of the youths have appealed to Andhra Pradesh chief minister N. Chandrababu Naidu to negotiate with the Malaysian authorities to drop the penalty as the crime was “unintended”. They urged that the youths should be allowed to return home.

The parents also urged Naidu to arrest the agent and conduct an inquiry into such rackets in which about 300 youths have been involved this year.

About 47,000 youths comprising farm labourers, construction labourers and household assistants, go to the Gulf, Australia and south-east Asian countries from Andhra every year. About 20 per cent of them end up as illegal immigrants without jobs or documents.

“Some of them live as high sea fishermen for months at a stretch,” said an Indian embassy official.


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