Airport caller mystery simmers
Fort-assailants’ hunt hits wall
Tales of torture from Mumbai ‘black hole’
Laloo in Gandhi trail
Sita’s kitchen after Ram temple
Samir rap for ‘preachers’
GT Road deaths spark protest
Hotspots in Nanoor back on the boil
Police let Buddha diktat drown
Bengal security shield for tourist trail

 
 
AIRPORT CALLER MYSTERY SIMMERS 
 
 
FROM GAJINDER SINGH
 
Chandigarh, Dec. 24: 
Even a year after the hijack of Flight IC-814 to Kandahar, Afghanistan, the mysterious call made at the Raja Sansi airport in Amritsar continues to baffle investigators.

Initial reports suggested that the caller had identified himself as J. Lal, joint secretary in the home ministry, and ordered the airport authorities to allow the aircraft to take off, a decision that has subsequently been criticised.

The drama began around 5 pm on this day last year, when Lucknow airport reported that the Indian Airlines plane was moving in a direction away from Delhi, its destination. Alarm bells started ringing and it was soon realised that the aircraft was heading towards the Pakistan border.

Islamabad refused the aircraft permission to land, forcing the pilot to head back to Amritsar a little before 7 pm as he was running out of fuel.

At the Raja Sansi airport, the Airbus remained stationary for a long time and the hijackers wanted the plane to be refuelled. It is not known whether the hijackers panicked when the oil tanker moved towards the plane or whether the Indian authorities deliberately delayed refuelling to gain precious time and force negotiations.

But soon afterwards, the pilot reported that four persons had been shot dead and the plane was taking off without refuelling.

A senior airport official said two calls — one by Rubey Lal, member, operations and another by the Cabinet secretary — had been received, asking to delay the refuelling. But there was another call by J. Lal, giving instructions to the airport authorities, that the security agencies are describing as mysterious.

The CBI, one of the investigating agencies, had reportedly stated that it was difficult for the caller to be detected as no record is available with the Amritsar telephone department. The call was not even made on the operational telephone number of the air traffic control tower.

Airport sources, however, said it was not unusual to receive such calls, especially in a crisis situation. They said during earlier hijack dramas at Amritsar, calls that could not be traced had been received by the airport authorities.

A senior CBI official disclosed on condition of anonymity that the mysterious call could have been made by an influential person in the Prime Minister’s Office, who did not want any commando action at Amritsar as his close relative was on board.

He could have used his authority to influence the crisis management group. If this is true, it was a grave mistake to allow the aircraft to leave for Lahore, the official added.

   

 
 
FORT-ASSAILANTS’ HUNT HITS WALL 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Dec. 24: 
The search for the two alleged Lashkar-e-Toiba militants who gunned down three army personnel in a raid on Red Fort has till now drawn a blank.

Searches were conducted in different parts of Old Delhi, including the Yamuna Pushta slum where the two militants are supposed to have disappeared after their 20-minute-to-half-an-hour rampage inside the Red Fort compounds. But they yielded little.

After the initial flurry when Lieutenant-Governor Vijai Kapoor addressed senior police officials in Delhi and asked them to personally supervise all “counter-operations”, things appear to have fallen into the same rut.

Inquiries revealed that the station house officer of the Kotwali police station, under whose jurisdiction the Red Fort falls, had taken a day off today. However, the weekly Chor Bazar near the Fort was not allowed to be held this morning.

Delhi police have handed over the case to the anti-terrorist cell. But tight-lipped police personnel were only willing to let on that the raids being carried out within the capital for the two extremists might not yield results. “They might have escaped Friday night itself and crossed over either to Haryana or Uttar Pradesh,” a police official said.

The army’s own court of inquiry has also begun asking questions. “The issue is being taken seriously. After all there has been a security breach. What the Lashkar-e-Toiba does regularly in Jammu and Kashmir — attack security camps at will — cannot be expected to recur in the capital,” said Delhi police sources.

It is apparent that the police do not want to jump to conclusions, especially after the recent Navy House incident where, as it later turned out, a guard shot himself and distorted the episode as an assault by an unidentified terrorist.

Coupled with the armed forces’ reluctance to reveal their security set-up, the police are finding it difficult to make headway. “We shall take some time to unearth what happened there. Right now we only have the army version of the incident,” police sources said.

But 48 hours after the surprise assault, there appears to be no key witnesses to the shootout except for armymen. There are still no answers to the intriguing question that if two armed intruders had sneaked in, why was only one Kalashnikov rifle found at the spot.

The police are also at a loss to explain why sniffer dogs were not sent in on the night of the attack or early Saturday morning.

The army is obviously embarrassed. Though he pointed out how difficult it was to make proper security arrangements at a fort which was also a major tourist attraction, defence minister George Fernandes did not try to shield the army while ordering an inquiry yesterday.

There is also no response yet as to why the Quick Reaction Team, attached to the battalion which should have been on its feet and running as soon as gunshots were heard, allowed so much time to pass before stepping out in pursuit.

Initial reports, not yet denied by the army, have indicated that there was a party going on at that time inside the barracks.

   

 
 
TALES OF TORTURE FROM MUMBAI ‘BLACK HOLE’ 
 
 
FROM DEBASHIS BHATTACHARYYA
 
Mumbai, Dec. 24: 
The bull lies on the ground, bleeding and writhing in pain. With its hind legs and a horn broken, it struggles to get back on its feet.

And it succeeds. With a vacant look in its eyes, the bull stands on its feet for a few seconds before collapsing, dead.

No, it is not a Hemingway story on bullfights in Spain; it is a scene sketched by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (Peta) in its report on Mumbai’s biggest slaughterhouse.

Poorva Joshipura, the country representative of the international organisation, today called the abattoir “a black hole of Mumbai” and demanded its closure, citing animal rights violation.

“What’s happening inside the slaughterhouse is criminal and it’s going unpunished,” she said.

During its “undercover” investigation last year, Peta agents found gross violation of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act and no trace of Bombay Society for the Protection of Animals officials, supposed to keep a watch on the municipal slaughterhouse where over 5,000 goats, 500 heads of cattle and 200 pigs are killed every day for their meat and hide.

Many of the cattle bound for the slaughterhouse arrived dead or injured in cramped trucks, which often squeezed in animals far beyond the permissible limit of six. In covered trucks, with small holes in the walls to let them breathe, the animals were tethered together with no room to stand freely. They also had their horns ripped off, some of them bleeding to death.

Those who make it to the slaughterhouse unhurt get beaten up on arrival, the report said. One “favourite” way of cowing down the animals was to twist their tails till they broke.

Peta quoted an abattoir official as admitting that up to 10 dead animals arrived at the slaughterhouse every day. The organisation, however, said the figure could be higher. On a recent visit, Peta officials recorded 31 dead heads of cattle brought from different districts.

Many of the animals, who had their legs broken and bodies bruised in transit, were left to die on the grounds of the abattoir on arrival. Sometimes, the wounded cattle were killed a few days later, an act that only prolonged their agony.

Unlike several slaughterhouses in the country, this abattoir does not follow the “emergency slaughter” norm, which suggests that an injured animal be killed on arrival to lessen its pain.

Though the abattoir has 18 vets on payroll, they hardly ever treat the injured animals. “In any case they are going to die,” they say matter-of-factly.

Peta officials found the animals waiting to be slaughtered, staring at them “pleadingly”. The animals were tethered, forced into a single file and then butchered one after another. The abattoir management never stuns an animal with its head on the block to lessen its suffering, even though this method is now widely used in many slaughterhouses in the country and abroad. The bulls and buffaloes are also never sprayed with water, a method that reduces their stress before slaughter.

The animals became restless and balked as they saw others butchered. Any attempt to break free and they had their necks twisted by abattoir workers, causing a slow, agonising death.

While the goats and sheep are killed instantly, bigger animals like bulls and buffaloes often do not die on first attempt. Peta found a buffalo hung upside down from the ceiling, meant to be skinned though it was still alive.

Peta officials also found the workers using dull cleavers, which they sometimes honed in front of the animals to scare them.

“Kill the animals if you have to, but do it humanly,” Joshipura urged.

   

 
 
LALOO IN GANDHI TRAIL 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Patna, Dec. 24: 
Laloo Prasad Yadav has mounted an anti-Vajpayee tirade from Champaran to extract political mileage from memories of Mahatma Gandhi’s satyagraha movement.

The RJD chief visited the Gandhi ashram at Bhitiharwa in Champaran with at least a dozen of Rabri Devi’s Cabinet ministers last evening. After paying tribute to Gandhiji, he blasted the Centre for its anti-farmer and anti-poor policies at a gathering.

Recalling the Champaran movement, he said: “If at one point of time a movement was needed by indigo farmers against British rule, now farmers need another battle against the hegemony of multinationals.” In reply, the crowd raised the slogan “Vajpayee government, hai hai.

Enthused, Laloo continued: “One has to begin a movement to overthrow the BJP-led NDA government at the Centre.” The country is in a state of uncertainty with dark clouds hovering over the farmers and the poor, he added.

Observers believe that by resorting to such political rhetoric, Laloo has kept rebels, gearing up for an alternative leadership, guessing.

Raking up the controversy between the state and the Centre over support prices to farmers, Laloo told the people they were suffering because they had voted for the NDA.

“I can assure you that the Rashtriya Janata Dal will not allow the Food Corporation of India (FCI) to purchase paddy from outside and dump it here,” Laloo said.

Laloo dubbed the FCI’s “discriminatory” role in refusing to buy Bihar paddy as an example of the Centre’s anti-farmer, anti-poor policy.

Party insiders believe, Laloo’s move aims at distracting attention from the attempt of the rebels to project an alternative to his leadership.

Higher education minister Ram Das Rai’s departure from the Rabri ministry has offered a fresh opportunity to the rebels to rally round Ranjan Yadav to replace her.

Claiming that the rebels are in touch with at least 50 MLAs, Rai raised the issue of a change in party leadership.

He received a shot in the arm when Mohammed Taslimuddin, another senior minister in the Rabri government, demanded a meeting of the RJD legislative party to discuss the issue.

Though Laloo dismissed the issue as “a non-event”, sources said he did not want to leave anything to chance. He landed at Champaran with the same ministers and made them address rallies to bolster his support base.

Laloo also plans to initiate a series of programmes to keep the leaders pre-occupied so that they are not able to stage a revolt.

   

 
 
SITA’S KITCHEN AFTER RAM TEMPLE 
 
 
FROM BASANT RAWAT
 
Ahmedabad, Dec. 24: 
The VHP plans to build three more shrines around the proposed Ram temple on the 65-acre plot in Ayodhya that the government acquired after the demolition of the Babri mosque.

VHP president Ashok Singhal said: “We have decided to build temples to Bharat, Laxman and Hanuman because we do not want any masjid to come up close to the Ram temple.”

The VHP also intends to build Sita’s “kitchen” and a complex for sadhus. There will be a garden too, he said.

Singhal, who was here to attend the VHP International Coordination Committee meet, said 5,000 sadhus will march to Parliament to pressure the Centre to transfer the 65 acres to Hindus to build the Ram temple.

The sadhus will march to Delhi after the Kumbh Mela where a date for the construction of the temple will be set.

Chandrakant Sompura, the architect who designed the Ram temple, has drawn up the plans for the three new temples, Sita’s kitchen, the garden and the residential complex for sadhus.

Expressing the hope the government will oblige the sadhus by transferring the land to build the temple, the VHP president said: “No government can afford to incur the wrath of the sadhu samaj.”

Replying to Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray’s controversial statement, Singhal said: “I support his view that Muslims should be disenfranchised.” If Muslims in India are disenfranchised, it will only help the community, he said. Now they are a mere votebank, Singhal added.

Referring to the killings of army personnel in Red Fort, the VHP president said: “The attack has exposed the fallacies of the peace initiative. Jihadis do not want peace.”

The VHP adopted resolutions on jihad, conversions, the plight of Hindus in Bangladesh and Muslim infiltration .

It appealed to the UN and the US to blacklist militant organisations and countries that sponsor cross-border terrorism. Demanding that Muslim infiltrators from Bangladesh be driven out, the VHP called for a ban on conversion and cow slaughter.

   

 
 
SAMIR RAP FOR ‘PREACHERS’ 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Dec. 24: 
CPM leader Samir Putatunda today came down heavily on a section of state leaders who, he said, paid “lip service to socialism and communism and did not practise what they preach to ordinary party workers”.

Putatunda, who is secretary of South 24-Parganas, expressed his displeasure at a general body meeting of the district committee. The meeting was attended by Jyoti Basu, state secretary Anil Biswas, chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee and other senior leaders.

Basu, who addressed the general body, mocked at those who were “still in search of more democracy within the CPM”.

“I have been told that many of our party leaders are in search of more democracy within the party. But I want to tell you that there is no greater democracy in any other political party,” he said.

Bhattacharjee said it was unfortunate that a section of leaders had developed a “different opinion about running the organisation” at a time when the party was gaining ground in the state.

“People have started coming back to us and we are also gaining in self-reliance. I feel no one should think about quitting the party at this juncture. Everyone has to go by the decisions taken by the district party leadership,” the chief minister said.

Biswas criticised the “disunity within the district committee” and said it was the “duty” of the district leadership to settle all disputes.

“The district leadership would have to answer the state leadership on the causes behind the disunity,” he said. “If they fail to settle it (the dispute), it will be considered their inability to run the organisation.”

According to sources, state leaders are worried over the functioning of the district committee. A section of state leaders fear that Putatunda will quit the party and today’s meeting was organised to convince him and his followers not to quit the party as Assembly polls are due in April.

That the party is trying hard to keep district leaders united is evident from the fact that senior leaders like Basu, Biswas and Bhattacharjee attended the general body meeting.

   

 
 
GT ROAD DEATHS SPARK PROTEST 
 
 
FROM UTPAL BANERJEE AND RANJAN LAHIRI
 
Burdwan, Dec. 24: 
Two persons were killed in separate road accidents on G.T. Road today.

Tension gripped Kaksa area after 19-year-old Sanmit Singh was killed when his motorcycle was hit by an oil tanker at Birudha More on G.T. Road.

Launching a protest, a mob set fire to the tanker and put up a road block on the road for nearly an hour, disrupting traffic.

Angry residents squatted on the road and demanded an assurance from the local administration that they would post a police picket on the spot. They alleged that a long stretch of G.T. Road had become an accident-prone zone.

The residents attributed the rise in the number of accidents to the deplorable condition of the road. They alleged that despite several reminders, the concerned authorities had not taken any measure to repair the huge potholes on the road.

In another incident, 28-year-old Birendra Singh was knocked down and killed in the same area when a bus hit him from behind.

Local residents beat up the driver and held a two-hour road block on G.T. Road. The driver has been arrested.

   

 
 
HOTSPOTS IN NANOOR BACK ON THE BOIL 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Nanoor, Dec. 24: 
Tension ran high in Harmoor, the village where 11 Trinamul Congress were mowed down by suspected CPM activists six months ago, as supporters of the two parties clashed last night.

The latest round of violence erupted over an attempt to gain control of the beneficiary committee of Indira Awas Yojana.

A mob attacked the temporary police camp which was set up after the massacre in the village in Nanoor. As the situation threatened to spin out of control, the police fired four rounds to disperse the crowd. One villager was injured.

The police have arrested 12 persons belonging to both the CPM and the Trinamul Congress.

Seikh Sahejamal, a CPM supporter, alleged that about 50 Trinamul Congress supporters attacked CPM workers on Saturday night.

A Trinamul Congress activist claimed that the CPM had been forcibly controlling the beneficiary committee of the welfare scheme. He said supporters of the Trinamul Congress were prevented from availing off any benefit from the policy. “When we started protesting against this malpractice, they started assaulting us,” he added.

Senior police officials rushed to the spot immediately as Harmoor is one of the most politically explosive villages in the state.

Sujit Kumar Sarkar, sub-divisional police officer of Bolpur, said the situation has been brought under control. Sarkar has been camping at Harmoor village since the incident. “We are mobilising more force to maintain law and order and prevent such clashes in the future,” he added.

The Nanoor killings had triggered political showdown in Bengal and Trinamul Congress leader Mamata Banerjee had organised a rally with the bodies of the victims.

A team of officials from the US Consulate had visited the site to enquire about the incident, which sparked a controversy as the CPM took strong exception to the move.\

   

 
 
POLICE LET BUDDHA DIKTAT DROWN 
 
 
FROM UTPAL BANERJEE
 
Durgapur, Dec. 24: 
The police allowed a musical extravaganza to blare on till the small hours in Nehru stadium last night in contradiction to a high court verdict and chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s directive.

A Sonu Nigam Nite was organised by Aamra Kajan, a local club, at the stadium, a stone’s throw away from the DSP Main Hospital. The programme, which began last evening, continued till five in the morning with the noise from the loudspeakers carrying to a distance of six km.

The chief minister, who visited a children’s fair in Burdwan yesterday, had asked superintendent of police Manon Malvia to enforce the high court Green Bench’s 9-pm curfew on loudspeakers.

The government’s embarrassment is acute as the function was attended by power minister Mrinal Banerjee, who is also the local MLA, and Rathin Roy, mayor of Durga Municipal Corporation. Malvia, too, was scheduled to attend the function, but did not turn up at the last moment.

Banerjee, who was the chief guest, sought to distance himself from the programme. “I was there for hardly 15 minutes. I went there to collect the cheque of Rs 50,000 donated by the organisers to the chief minister’s relief fund. I know nothing more.” Incidentally, the chief minister had criticised a Hrithik Roshan show organised in Calcutta by transport minister Subhas Chakraborty, saying that the government had no business to be associated with such galas.

The authorities have swung into action with sub-divisional officer Durgadas Goswami saying he asked the police for a report so that steps could be taken against the organisers. The police claim the organisers were asked in writing to follow the Green Bench norms when permission was given. They were also asked to stick to the Pollution Control Board’s directives. Sub-divisional police officer K.B. Darjee said: “I had asked the organisers to disconnect the loudspeakers after 9 pm. But they did not pay heed to my words.”

Prasanta Mazumdar, an organiser, pleaded that the function, attended by over 50,000 spectators, had to be continued even after the Green Bench curfew due to public demand.

The police had their hands full yesterday. They had to make repeated baton charges to disperse Sonu Nigam’s fans who stormed Durgapur House, where the singer had been lodged, to collect autographs. Four persons were injured.

   

 
 
BENGAL SECURITY SHIELD FOR TOURIST TRAIL 
 
 
FROM PROBIR PRAMANIK
 
Gangtok, Dec. 24: 
The West Bengal government will beef up security in the north Bengal tourism belt in view of the Teesta Tea and Tourism Festival which began here today.

Security forces will focus on areas vulnerable to possible militant strikes in the festival stretches, which run through the Darjeeling hills to Coochbehar in the eastern fringe of north Bengal.

The West Bengal tourism department’s principal secretary and chairman of the festival coordination committee, Pranab Roy, said: “We are aware of militancy in the region. We are making special security bandobast during the festival period.”

He added that security forces would be deployed for the Darjeeling-Chalsa motor rally and for the special train ride from Siliguri to Coochbehar through the jungles and tea gardens of Dooars on January 12. The routes for the rally and the train cut through pockets considered “soft” by police.

Taking advantage of the tea festival, Bengal has decided to promote the Dooars region as the “gateway to the eastern Himalayan region”.

The West Bengal Tourism Development Corporation, in collaboration with the railways, will promote “rail tourism” in the region. “Special air-conditioned coaches meant for rail tourists will be attached to all trains to and from the region,” he added.

The government is also sounding tea gardens to tap their potential. “We are trying to rope in the tea planters from Doors to open up their gardens to holiday-makers. I will be meeting the managements of the big players in the tea industry, including Duncan and Tata Tea, for the purpose,” Roy said.

He felt that more elephants and other transport animals should be made available in the region’s numerous wildlife parks .“We have requested the state forest department to provide more elephants in these reserves,” he added.

The tourism secretary said the state wants the private sector to participate in developing tourism infrastructure in the region. “We are on the verge of drawing up a tourism master plan for the state.”

Carnival rolls

The Teesta festival, inaugurated by Sikkim tourism minister K. T. Gyalsten, got off the ground with a dance performance by Buddhist monks and an archery contest.

Chief minister Pawan Chamling was scheduled to inaugurate the carnival but he had to leave early to catch a train to Delhi following the suspension of flights to and from Bagdogra.

   
 

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